Given the high number of children in need of an afterschool program, it’s important to understand the underlying barriers to participation. Three in five caregivers sited the cost of programs as a major factor in their decision not to enroll their child in a program. It is important to note not all out-of-school time programs charge tuition and enrollment fees. However, given the scarcity of funding, many programs must include fees to stay operational. For Virginia parents that report that they pay a fee for their child’s afterschool program, they averaged about $110.00 per week in early 2020. This cost is simply out of reach for many families. In fact, only 31% of children who partake in out-of-school time programs are from low-income households.
We know that out-of-school time programs have the power to help children and youth reach their maximum potential and this can be especially powerful for those born into poverty. Virginia’s 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) programs are among OST programs that do not charge regular tuition fees. The programs are operated through the Virginia Department of Education and are publicly funded. 21st CCLC programs exclusively serve children that attend high-poverty, low-performing schools. In the 2017-2018 school year this funding supported 136 centers, serving 9,986 regular attending students (minimum of 30 days).
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To measure the effectiveness of these programs, there was a statewide evaluation performed by the University of Memphis, Center for Research in Educational Policy. The results were clear. Investing in children experiencing poverty paid off. The evaluation found major gains with 63 percent of students improved academic performance, seventy percent improved classroom and increased homework completion and class participation among 77 percent of students. When comparing special education students that participated in 21st CCLC students to non-attendees, those students outperformed those not in programs.
With such clear cut results, why are these programs only being allocated funding to reach less than 10,000 Virginia children while more than 600,000 remain unserved? We must do better. Viewing the above map, we can see so many Virginia communities with extremely high rates of poverty and yet a severe lack of OST programs.