Afterschool Program Task Force Recommends Coordinated Effort, Increased Funding, to Better Serve Students

DOVER – A serious need for affordable and accessible afterschool and summer break learning opportunities exists for Delaware children, leaving working families with insufficient options and putting these students at a disadvantage in school.

These were among the findings of the Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning (SAIL) Task Force, which brought together a collection of leading afterschool care providers, educators and relevant 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 was created by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst in June 2016.

According to a 2014 parent survey conducted by the National Afterschool Alliance, more than 26,000 Delaware students participate in afterschool programs. But, the survey also found that a total of 48,000 students would be likely to participate in an afterschool program if one was available. Afterschool and summer break programs help to narrow and close educational opportunity and resulting achievement gaps.

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.

“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 Rep. Longhurst, a task force co-chair who sits on the board of directors for the Bear-Glasgow YMCA and Police Athletic League of Delaware.

“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 in five Delaware children live in poverty and one in four live in a low-income working family. Additionally, more than 80 percent of parents with kids in afterschool programs agree that the programs help working parents keep their jobs.

In Delaware, 21 percent of fourth graders were found to be chronically absent from school; 30 percent of fourth graders and 27 percent of eighth graders are performing below basic reading proficiency levels and 23 percent of students are not graduating high school on time.

Afterschool and summer break programs help bridge gaps between school and home, especially in the hours between 3-6 p.m. and during the summer when children are most in need of safe, engaging places to spend their time, and working parents most benefit from the additional support, the report states. Afterschool and summer break programs provide a combination of academic supports through intellectual and social activities, as well as provide needed opportunities for the social and personal development of children.

“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 reinstitute 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 afterschool and summer program offerings throughout the state in order to identify gaps in services.” The study would include: information about the types of programs offered by schools, early learning providers and community organizations; data breaking down the demographics of students being served by existing programs to identify who is not being served; data on who has the most profound need for services; and parent, community and provider perspectives.

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Final SAIL Task Force Report & Appendices.pdf3.36 MB