Afterschool programs need mayors and city councilmembers to be their advocate. Here are several ways you can support afterschool initiatives — and the reasons why they likely align with your own community goals.
A version of this post originally appeared in Afterschool Today, a publication of the National Afterschool Association.
At the National League of Cities (NLC), we often say that cities are where the rubber meets the road. When it comes to afterschool, this means that the effects of young people disengaging from school, getting into trouble because they have no place to go after school, and not having the skills to enter the workforce really hits home in our communities.
Mayors and city councilmembers understand there is an inextricable tie between afterschool programs and the vitality of a city. They care about the quality of education in their cities, the health of their local economy, and the safety of their residents. Afterschool and summer programs are the perfect venue for cities to impact outcomes for youth.
With the changing workforce, afterschool programs may sometimes be the only place that a young person may get exposure to STEM opportunities or meet someone from a local business. As NLC President and Cleveland Councilmember Matt Zone has stated, “In our changing economy, millions of jobs are going unfilled due to the gap between the skills workers have and the experience employers need. Afterschool provides hands-on experience, exposure to career pathways, and develops essential skills to help us close this gap.”
The Need for Champions
Why should local elected officials champion afterschool and summer programs citywide? Afterschool programs have a wide range of benefits, are tied to multiple outcomes, and have broad public support. They are a strategy for crime prevention and public safety, neighborhood development and community engagement, and economic and workforce development. In addition, these programs help young people develop critical social, emotional, and workforce skills that will serve them for a lifetime by helping them navigate through school and successfully enter the workforce. The connection to city priorities is clear.
With the current changes in the political landscape, however, there is concern about the future of federal funding for afterschool programs. One of the best things an elected official can do to understand why the federal budget cuts matter is learn how many children are served by 21st Century Community Learning Center grants in their city. This chart shows the amount that each state can lose. NLC can also help you find more information about the funding provided to your community by your state department of education.
What would happen to the kids that afterschool programs serve if these sources of funding disappeared? How would the lives of their families change, and how would that impact your city’s economic landscape and overall vitality? Afterschool programs address a wide range of concerns — and it’s likely that these programs align with your own goals to improve your community. To garner additional support, simply reach out to your local programs; they’ll likely be more than happy to provide data showing the impacts their work has had on the community.
Since its creation in 2000, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) has helped hundreds of cities to utilize their municipal leadership to create, improve, expand, or sustain quality afterschool programs. We have helped cities create citywide systems that coordinate various afterschool program efforts into one system to maximize reach, scale, breadth, and impacts on youth.
The Wallace Foundation has also made deep investments in 14 larger cities across the country to support the growth and sustainability of impressive citywide afterschool systems — and smaller cities have taken lessons from these models and from knowledge curated by The Wallace Foundation to develop their own systems as well.
There are many roles municipal officials can play to support afterschool programs. Cities can:
- Create a public awareness campaign about the importance of afterschool and feature may quality programs in the city.
- Utilize the bully pulpit to give afterschool programs greater visibility to parents and the broader community.
- Invest general fund dollars in programs to expand or sustain slots in city-funded programs.
- Connect city-funded recreation or library programs with community partners to improve the quality of programming.
- Utilize the city’s GIS capabilities to map need across neighborhoods and make targeted decisions about investing resources in areas with the greatest need.
- Partner with schools to share student data so afterschool programs can impact kids with the greatest needs.
- Co-locate city programs at schools to reduce barriers to access.
- Convene your public and private transportation officials to consider creative ways to transport children to afterschool and summer programs at no or low cost.
- Use the power of the mayor’s office to advocate for state and federal dollars.
- Convene philanthropic organizations and business leaders to develop a funding strategy to support more young people in programs across the city.
Times have changed. Families have changed. Today’s jobs, and the skills needed to do them, have changed. While our children’s needs are changing accordingly, basic needs for safety, food and nutrition, a caring adult, and engaging activities have remained the same. Talk to your afterschool and summer program providers about how your city can support programs as a cost-effective solution to meet these needs and put youth on the path to success.
About the author: Bela Shah Spooner is the program manager for expanded learning at the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.