LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger held a national summit Tuesday calling on Congress to preserve more than $1 billion in federal funding for after-school programs that have been criticized over lackluster academic outcomes for participants.
Schwarzenegger was joined by education, business and law enforcement leaders in demanding that any reauthorization of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law maintain the funding for after-school programs.
A House proposal would eliminate 69 programs, including after-school centers designed to help children in low-income neighborhoods, in favor of a grant that lets states decide how to use the funds.
“I’m always worried when someone says, ‘It will give them more flexibility,’” Schwarzenegger said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think after-school money is for after-school programs.”
The No Child Left Behind bill has stalled while leaders in the Senate work on a bipartisan draft.
After-school education programs have drawn attention in recent years as the number of children in homes with two working parents continues to rise. In 1965, four in 10 children had more than one parent who worked; by 2014, that number had risen to more than six in 10.
Critics of federally funded after-school initiatives point to U.S. Department of Education and other data showing that many participating programs do not demonstrate the ability to improve academic achievement.
The most recent agency report found that almost none of the performance targets were met, with only 38.4 percent of elementary-school participants showing gains in math grades and 40.2 percent in English.
For middle and high school students, the numbers also showed minimal improvement: 33.8 percent had better grades in math and 34.6 percent in English.
Schwarzenegger, a proponent of after-school education for more than two decades, has argued that they keep children off the streets during the late afternoon, among other benefits.
“Many of those studies are measuring progress against academic subjects as though it’s the only thing,” former Education Secretary Rod Paige said at the summit. “There are so many other different values that we’re getting.”
Deborah Lowe Vandell, dean of the University of California, Irvine education school, said after-school programs need strong relationships between adults and students, as well as among peers, engaging activities and consistent attendance to aid academics and work habits.
There are more than 10 million children enrolled in after-school programs across the nation, according to the nonprofit Afterschool Alliance.
Just 1.6 million are in a federal 21st Century Community Learning Center for children in low-income neighborhoods — the same communities where both parents are likely to work. About 20 million more students would participate if an after-school program were available to them, the organization estimates.