BY KYNLI SMITH
The 21st Century Community Learning Center grant that funds after-school and summer programs for Big Horn County School District No. 4 could be cut based on President Donald Trump’s recently proposed budget.
Trump’s current budget would cut Department of Education funding by 13.5 percent or $9.2 million. About $1.2 billion would be cut from programs like 21st Century CLC and other after school and summer programs because “The program lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives as improving students achievement,” according to the proposal.
The budget, however, increases funding for charter schools by $168 million and allocates $250 million to a “new private school choice program.”
“The part that concerns me the most is that Trump states that our programs lack strong evidence of meeting our objectives, which is a false statement,” said School District Four 21CCLC project manager Amber DeGraw, adding, “Losing 21st CCLC funding would be devastating to our community and school district. As a parent of four children who participate in these programs, I know firsthand how much they help kids academically, socially and emotionally. If the funding is eliminated, I’m not sure that the school district would be able to keep our programs because of the drastic budget cuts that are happening now and in the future.”
A letter by local National Afterschool Alliance representative Jodi Grant, stated, “The Trump administration’s call for zero funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) after-school initiative is a betrayal of the millions of students and parents who depend on after-school and summer learning programs. This proposal would devastate working families. It is painfully shortsighted and makes a mockery of the President’s promise to make our country safer and to support inner cities and rural communities alike. This proposal would result in far fewer programs, diminished program offerings and gutting of the infrastructure that leverages support for after-school and summer learning programs from local museums, businesses, colleges and others. After-school programs make it possible for many parents to work; losing their after-school programs would jeopardize their ability to hold onto their jobs.”
Since the 1990s 21CCLC has been offering students and parents opportunities. Some of its objectives are: establishing community learning centers that help students in high poverty, low performing schools meet academic standards, offering high quality enrichment activities, and providing programs that engage the families of students.
According to DeGraw, over the last 15 years 21CClC programs have brought in around $1 million into four neighborhoods in the local community, which has helped more than 800 children.
“Students who attend our programs do better academically and develop more positive social skills,” DeGraw said.
She added that by offering programs free of charge, low-income families have benefited from more than $10 million in child care savings and have been able to enter and remain the workforce.
From drops in juvenile crime to better eating habits to students engaging in physical activities, DeGraw said the programs benefit the community as well as the students.
Since 2001, the local programs have employed more than 150 community members.
“If Trump’s cut to 21CCLC passes it would be extremely unfortunate, not just for Wyoming but for all other states,” said district superintendent Dave Kerby. “These programs provide opportunities for kids and for working parents.”
Kerby added that the programs are highly competitive and that most school districts cannot offer the programs in their operating budgets, which means they rely heavily on federal grants.
“These programs are known to raise graduation rates, help students become successful and build up confidence in students,” Kerby said.
The school district is currently in year three of a five-year federal grant, which awards, $96,496 annually. Once the grant expires the district would have to reapply. About 118 students are enrolled in the current programs.
At Laura Irwin Elementary, Beyond the Bell runs four days a week and has six employees, serving 55 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.
“Here we provide students with a healthy snack, and they have exercise time, a half an hour of homework time or math and reading supplemental material, and then a STEM based activity, which improves student knowledge in science, technology, engineering and math,” said DeGraw.
At Cloud Peak Middle School, Afterschool Adventures runs four days a week and employs two, serving 22 students in grades five through eight.
At Riverside High School, Zero Hour and Power Hour runs four days a week and employs one. Zero Hour serves about 18 students and Power Hour serves more than 20 students.
“Zero Hour is our weightlifting and health program, which encourages student health and wellness and reduces school truancy,” said DeGraw. “During Power Hour students receive one-on-one help with school studies, which increases students’ grades and encourages students to get assignments turned in on time, which in turn increases graduation rates and college readiness.”
If programs like these lose their funding, 10 people in the community could lose their jobs.
DeGraw and others are asking for people in the community to take action and contact Wyoming U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi and U.S. Representative Liz Cheney.
For more information about 21CCLC or how to get involved, contact DeGraw at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If these programs are eliminated because of funding, the direct impact it will have is on our kids, which in turn affects our community,” said DeGraw. “Less students will turn in homework. Less students will have the opportunity to have extra STEM activities to participate in, which challenges their intellect and increases school test scores. Less students will get a healthy snack and have a safe place to go after school. More parents will be worried about where their children are and what they are doing after school, and ultimately, it’s our kids that suffer.
“We need everyone’s support. Please contact our congressmen or contact me if you want to know how you can further support our programs.”