Task force recommends expanded after-school programs

Valerie Longhurst

DOVER — A new report finds Delaware is lacking in after-school programs, leading to increased discrepancies in educational success between children from upper-class backgrounds and those from impoverished families.

The Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning, created in 2016 by the General Assembly, is formally recommending the state provide funding to allow school districts to develop education initiatives for students.

According to the report, substantial after-school programs translate to more students graduating and can even result in lower crime.

“After-school and summer break programs help to narrow and close equity, opportunity and achievement gaps,” the findings, released Wednesday, state.

The task force calls for restoring funding used to help districts set up after-school programs for students in need of additional academic assistance. The funding was cut in 2009.

The group recommends commissioning an in-depth study to examine what districts currently offer and creating a council that will provide periodic recommendations for after-school programs.

“More than two out of three (67 percent) parents living in areas of concentrated poverty report that finding an enriching environment for their child in the after-school hours is a challenge, compared to less than half of parents living outside of these areas (46 percent),” the report says.

“Moreover, 42 percent of these parents report that their communities do not have access to after-school programs at all. And, regardless of access, 61 percent say that current economic conditions make placing their child in a program difficult to afford — compared to 47 percent of parents outside communities of concentrated poverty.”

Just 20 percent of a student’s “waking hours” over a year take place during the school day, according to the report.

2016 legislation that would have given grants to schools in low-income areas with the intention of using the funds for after-school programs failed to go anywhere, likely due to the estimated annual cost of about $7.5 million for every 10 percent of students who participated.

The bill was sponsored House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, who also served on the task force.

“We found through this task force that although many of us approached the issue from different perspectives, we all had the same goal. We set aside any ‘turf protection’ mindsets and produced a thorough, thoughtful roadmap for after-school and summer learning opportunities for children,” she said in a statement. “Although several of our recommendations will require funding at a time when fiscal resources are scarce, the data shows that these programs pay huge dividends for students. It’s an investment worth making.”

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