When he presented President Bush’s budget for fiscal 2004, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced that 21st Century Learning Centers, a very popular afterschool program, had been cut by 40 percent, from $1 billion to $600 million. The administration justified the cut by pointing to a Mathematica study that said the program had little effect on academic achievement. According to Shortchanging Education Reform, a report by the Democratic Staff of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce, this cut would deny afterschool programs to over half a million disadvantaged children.
Meanwhile, supporters of the afterschool program argued that the study was based on only one year of data in the early stages of the program, which has undergone dramatic changes since 2000 and especially since the implementation of No Child Left Behind. Afterschool Alliance executive director Judy Y. Samelson said she found it “terribly disappointing that the report highlights only negative findings and that the Bush administration is using this study to justify a deep, indefensible cut in the federal afterschool program.”
Samelson and other afterschool proponents pointed to the many positive findings contained in the Mathematica report. For instance, among middle school students, the study found improvements in math grades and higher teacher satisfaction with students’ completed homework. In addition, the study reported higher average mathematics grades, less absenteeism, and less tardiness for black and Hispanic afterschool participants. Afterschool programs also increase the likelihood of parental involvement, usually in the form of attendance at school open houses or parent-teacher organization meetings.