Why America Should Invest in Afterschool and Summer Programs

This is a guest post by Mayor Karen Best of Branson, Missouri.

As mayor of Branson, one of my primary responsibilities is ensuring the sustainability and prosperity of our community. There is no better way to ensure our city’s future than providing our young people with opportunities to learn and grow in a safe environment outside of the school day.

I have been disappointed to hear about recent attempts to cut or eliminate funding for afterschool programs at the federal level — specifically the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. This program provides a little over $18 million to the state of Missouri each year to support afterschool and summer learning programs in high-need communities, including Branson and the surrounding areas.

Afterschool programs are a smart investment with a high return. With just over $18 million, school districts and community-based organizations across Missouri are able to serve over 18,000 youth regularly (and up to 24,000 youth throughout the school year), making an average investment of just under $1,000 per youth for an entire school year or a full-day program in the summer.

Some researchers estimate that the return is $3 for every $1 invested due to costs saved from juvenile crime and detention and dollars earned from improved school performance and future earning potential for youth who participate in these programs.

Some federal officials in Washington, D.C. are insisting that these afterschool programs don’t work. Being from the Show Me State, I can understand and relate with some level of skepticism. Sometimes, it’s not enough to just hear about the programs—you have to SHOW me. So, what have our local afterschool programs SHOWN me over my tenure as mayor?

  • Afterschool programs provide a needed solution to a key city issue – public safety. Juvenile participation in crime and victimization from crime peaks in the hours immediately after school, from 3-6pm. From a Mayor’s perspective, this places a burden on our already stretched police department. Afterschool programs provide an important prevention piece by ensuring that our youth have a safe place to go and engage with caring adults. They are supported and have more opportunities to learn healthy habits and behaviors, preparing them to be better citizens.
  • To thrive, working parents need support – especially in a city like Branson, where parents’ work shifts don’t always follow the same schedule. Afterschool programs help families by giving parents peace of mind and assurance that while they finish their work day, their children are supported. It is vital to our local economy that our workforce have family supports in place, not only to ensure workplace productivity for current businesses, but to ensure that we continue to create a favorable environment to attract new businesses.
  • While supporting the current workforce and aiding working parents, afterschool programs are also playing a critical role in preparing our future workforce with skills they will need to succeed in the 21st Century, and to support our city’s sustainability going forward. Through partnerships, our local afterschool program at the Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks is connecting youth with opportunities through the Taney County Partnership Collaborative which engages local businesses leaders and employers. These leaders support the Club’s Career Launch Program by providing mentors and volunteers as guest speakers, so that youth are exposed to potential career paths and hands-on learning experiences. These types of partnerships don’t work as well during the school day, where there is less time and flexibility to focus on exploring passions.

Even with the current investments we have in afterschool and summer learning, there are still almost 250,000 Missouri youth who find themselves unsupervised when school is out. During the 2016 Missouri State Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Center grant competition, 47 communities applied but only 21 grants were awarded. This meant that 26 communities hoping to implement afterschool or summer programming are still left without resources to do so given the constraints of current state and federal investments.

Rather than cutting funds, we should be looking at more ways to encourage and support innovative public-private partnerships at the local, state, and federal levels, so that more youth and their parents have access to these programs, and we can deliver services in a more efficient and effective way. City leaders can help by speaking up as champions for the issue, convening those discussions, and helping to problem solve on a local level so that our programs are meeting the needs of our communities.

I know that our city is safer, our workforce more productive and our future is brighter than ever because of the value that afterschool programs add to our community. It is unfathomable to think we could lose funding for something that brings so much vitality and opportunity to the youth and families that live here.

To all mayors out there, go visit programs in your city, talk to kids and their families and learn about the amazing experiences that afterschool and summer programs provide. Tell your state and federal leaders about the importance of these dollars. That’s what I’m doing this week.

Thanks to the National League of Cities and the Afterschool Alliance, I was honored to tell my story and the Branson story about why afterschool matters at a Capitol Hill briefing Washington to congressional leaders and staffers. They need to hear from us, mayors, local elected and other city official — those who actually know what their communities need.

MayorBestPhoto2About the Author: Mayor Karen Best has served as mayor of Branson, Missouri since April 2015.