The federal budget and appropriations process can be quite a roller coaster, and this year is no exception. In the early phases of the annual appropriations process, the expanded-learning field faces the possibility of significantly reduced federal funding in fiscal year 2017 (FY17) as Congress balances competing needs and limited funds.
The President released his proposed FY17 budget in February, which would increase discretionary spending for the Department of Education by approximately $1.3 billion over the FY16 funding level. However, the President’s budget proposed reducing funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, the only dedicated funding stream for after-school and summer learning programs, by $166 million. The Senate Committee on Appropriations passed its own funding proposal on June 9, which would reduce funding for the Department of Education overall by $220 million, including a $117 million dollar cut to the 21st CCLC program. The proposed reductions to funding for 21st CCLC carry potentially significant consequences; the Afterschool Alliance predicts “if the Senate bill were to become law, approximately 117,000 children would lose access to quality afterschool and summer learning programs next year.”
Other proposed changes to education funding could also have a limited positive impact on expanded-learning. FY17 is the first year that federal funds will be distributed under the framework of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was passed by Congress in December 2015 to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
ESSA also creates a new, flexible funding stream, the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, to give school districts a new pot of funds for a broad range of activities, including STEM education and expanded learning. The President’s budget proposed $500 million in funding for the new grant program, while the Senate legislation included $300 million.
While the cuts to 21st CCLC proposed in both the President’s budget and the Senate LHHS proposal represent a significant challenge for the expanded-learning community, organizations still have the opportunity to weigh in regarding the importance of funding for 21st CCLC and other expanded learning priorities. As of this writing, the House Appropriations Committee has yet to pass its own proposed budget for Labor, Health and Human Services and Related Agencies. In addition, the impending Presidential transition makes it unlikely that the Senate funding legislation or any potential House bill will be passed by their respective full bodies. It is more likely that, following the Presidential election in November, lawmakers will work to pass overall funding legislation that sets the funding levels for LHHS and other areas of the government.
This is an important time to make the case for continued funding for expanded-learning programs with your representatives. Citizen Schools and the Afterschool Alliance have letter campaigns you can support, or you can reach out to your Senators and Representative directly. Your elected officials need to know that expanded-learning opportunities matter to you and your communities!