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Senate Subcommittee Hears Testimony on After-School Programs

On May 12, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education held a hearing to consider FY2004 funding for the Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which funds after-school activities. The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act authorized funding for the program through 2007. In 2002, 21st Century grant funding shifted from federally-selected grantees to those selected by individual states.

The subcommittee heard testimony from Deputy Education Secretary William Hansen, who defended the Bush administration’s proposed $400 million cut in after-school programs, telling the subcommittee that a recent evaluation of the program, initiated by the Clinton Administration, showed that “grantees are not having a positive impact on students’ achievement.” He stated that the President’s 2004 budget proposes the elimination of 45 education programs totaling $1.5 billion, and reduces funds for other programs to focus on “higher priority” activities.

“We made difficult choices,” he said, “and funded programs that benefit our greatest needs most effectively Title I, special education and Pell Grants.” The President’s FY2004 budget would provide $12.4 billion for Title I, a $1 billion increase over FY2003; $9.5 billion for special education programs, a $600 million increase; and $12.7 billion for Pell Grants, $1.3 billion more than the FY2003 level.

New Haven, Connecticut Mayor John DeStefano addressed the proposed cuts. “A continued federal commitment to after-school programs will help continue to build on current after-school successes. This is a long-term investment with long-term payoffs,” he said.

The hearing drew a larger-than-usual crowd because of the star witness, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who last year led a successful drive to expand after-school programs in his home state of California. He now chairs a national after-school foundation. The actor told the subcommittee that he owed his success to mentors he had as a child, and worried that with the proposed after-school cuts, other children would be denied the same opportunities he had. He cited studies showing 3-6 p.m. to be the “danger zone” for children, when they are more likely to become victims of violent crime, commit a violent crime themselves, use alcohol and drugs, or engage in risky sexual behavior.

“If our children are our future,” Mr. Schwarzenegger stated, “our future is in jeopardy every afternoon between 3 and 6 p.m. when unsupervised children roam the streets. But it doesn’t have to be this way. After-school programs can reduce crime, make our streets safer, and improve the lives of our most vulnerable children.”

But Deputy Secretary Hansen testified that studies show that the 21st Century program has had “no positive impact” on behavior. “In fact,” he said, “program participants in federally funded programs were more likely to have sold drugs and smoked marijuana than non-participants.” He reiterated the President’s support for after-school programs, but defended the proposed cuts in funding. “This Administration is dedicated to funding programs that work,” Deputy Secretary Hansen said. “Our focus is the child. We will fund only what works to help children.”

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