Committee’s report sees need for after-school programs

A report sees a need for affordable and accessible after-school and summer break learning opportunities.

The findings came from the Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning (SAIL) Task Force, which brought together a collection of leading after-school care providers, educators and state agencies. For the past several months, the task force studied the issue of afterschool and summer break care for Delaware students, issuing its findings and recommendations Wednesday. The group wasorganized by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Delaware City, in June 2016.

According to a 2014 parent survey conducted by the National Afterschool Alliance, more than 26,000 Delaware students participate in after-school programs. But, the survey also found 48,000 students would be likely to participate in an afterschool program if one was available.

The SAIL Task Force’s recommendations include creating an Extended Learning Opportunities Council “to research and recommend new public policy, set program standards, suggest funding protocols, establish standards for program performance/evaluation,” and make regular recommendations for improvements for extended learning opportunities for school-aged children. The proposed council would consist of institutions that currently provide extended learning opportunity programs, public school districts, the general public, and state agencies.

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“All of us on the task force are committed to ensuring that all Delaware students have the ability to attend and participate in high quality afterschool or summer extended learning programs that keeps them engaged, boosts attendance and improves literacy, increasing the likelihood that they will do well in school, graduate, and participate fully in our society,” said Longhurst, a task force co-chair.

“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 afterschool and summer learning opportunities for children. 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.”

The report noted that 73 percent of Delaware students have both available parents in the labor force, while one-fifth of Delaware childrenlive in poverty and one in four live in a low-income working family. Additionally, more than 80 percent of parents with kids in after-school programs agree that the programs help working parents keep their jobs.

“Delaware clearly trails other states when it comes to expanded learning opportunities for our children,” said Jack Polidori, chair of the Task Force. “In recent years, much time and effort has been concentrated justifiably upon the creation and development of excellent policy in early childhood education. Now it’s time to focus thoughtfully upon children who are a bit older as they move towards adolescence. We need to close this gaping hole in our state’s education policy and programming. Keep kids busy, engaged, learning… and out of trouble.”

The task force also is recommending that the state bring back funding for public school district extended learning opportunities programs. Extra time funds were appropriated since fiscal 1997 until fiscal 2008 to school districts to be used for before or after school programs. The funds were cut in fiscal 2009 due to a historic budget shortfall and have not been restored.

Additionally, the task force called for a detailed market study to document “in detail current afters-chool and summer program offerings throughout the state in order to identify gaps in services.

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