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Funding for After-School Programs on Federal Chopping Block

PHOTO: Kids in a Walla Walla after-school program work on a high-altitude weather balloon. This and other enrichment programs are at risk as Congress considers ending dedicated funding for after-school and summer programs, and lets states spend federal education dollars on other priorities. Photo credit: Brent Cummings, FORWARD Space Program.
PHOTO: Kids in a Walla Walla after-school program work on a high-altitude weather balloon. This and other enrichment programs are at risk as Congress considers ending dedicated funding for after-school and summer programs, and lets states spend federal education dollars on other priorities. Photo credit: Brent Cummings, FORWARD Space Program.
March 2, 2015

GRAYS HARBOR, Wash. - Congress is expected to take some action this month on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), what many people know as "No Child Left Behind." It could have some big, unintended consequences for after-school and summer learning programs.

Washington doesn't provide state funding for after-school programs, so they rely on federal dollars that might disappear. The current reauthorization proposals would allow states to spend the money on any facet of education.

David Beard, education policy and advocacy director with School's Out Washington, says other priorities are likely to win.

"Of course, we have McCleary and [Initiative] 1351, which basically are demanding any dollar like that to come into the state couldn't necessarily go to things like after-school and summer programs," Beard explains. "The state would probably just backfill whatever they need to backfill, and programs would be eliminated."

Beard points out ESEA money has been the only steady, reliable funding stream for after-school programs in Washington for years. In Congress, the House is expected to vote on reauthorization in the next two weeks; Senator Patty Murray is the ranking member of the Senate committee also considering the changes.

The effects of a change in rural Washington would be significant. ESEA dollars allow these programs to be open longer hours, provide food, hire staff and incorporate STEM, science, technology, engineering and math, activities.

In Grays Harbor County, Jan Gravley, district director, 21st Century Community Learning Center after-school programs, says most of their students are from low-income families whose options are few.

"It's really important to think about programs in rural areas, the opportunities that we have," she says. "To think about, where would the kiddos in our community be during those after-school hours?"

Statewide, School's Out Washington estimates 18,000 children would lose their access to summer and after-school programs if Congress allows the federal funds to be diverted. Proponents of the change say in its current form, "No Child Left Behind" doesn't give states the funding flexibility they need for education.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA