Credit: Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education
A teacher sanitizes sports equipment.

As California’s adult population navigates a global pandemic, racial and economic inequalities, and wildfires, our children’s resolve and spirit can help us focus on the positive.

Make no mistake, this has been a trying time for California’s youth, too. Remote learning, social isolation and food insecurity have exacerbated their struggles.

Their resilience however deserves our notice and, frankly, further investment in the quality afterschool programs we know can address their challenges and support the development of academic, social and emotional skills. We must urge our federal, state and local leaders to prioritize investments in quality afterschool programming.

The pandemic has disproportionately affected more than 900,000 students who attend California’s afterschool programs, which are publicly funded through a combination of the state’s After School Education and Safety (ASES) program and the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program.

Families depend on afterschool programs to provide critical care and support for their children, which is more vital than ever for working parents navigating pandemic-adjusted school schedules.

Tighter budgets have created greater competition for finite resources. As a result, we have seen funding for quality afterschool programming fall behind. A continued lack of adequate funding will lead to severe effects, including program closures, smaller staff sizes and reduced quality overall.

Furthermore, this will harm programming proven essential to reducing educational disparities. For example, approximately 84% of children in state-subsidized afterschool programs in California are economically disadvantaged, and nine out of 10 participants are children of color.

We know that afterschool programming increases long-term public safety by fostering connections, preventing juvenile crime and improving academic performance. Since 2000, juvenile arrest rates have decreased by 70% nationwide. Evaluations of a number of programs have shown that quality afterschool programming has contributed to this reduction in juvenile crime.

Yet, juvenile crime continues to peak in the hours immediately following the end of the school day. That’s one reason why law enforcement leaders statewide rely on quality afterschool programs to provide supportive, stable and enriching environments.

These programs also can bolster national security. Today, a shocking 71% of young adults in California are ineligible to serve in the military. Several problems fuel this ineligibility challenge for potential recruits, including a lack of educational attainment, a background with crime or drugs, or a lack of physical fitness.

School closures and other disruptions have made it more difficult for kids to stay engaged in their community, or to have access to nutritious foods, physical exercise and critical academic support. Research has proved that afterschool programs can help address all of those needs.

The evidence from quality afterschool programs in California and across the country clearly demonstrate positive outcomes. Furthermore, parents, community leaders and many elected officials all agree that afterschool programs help keep kids on the right track for success later in life.

With deep, evidence-based analysis and widespread support, you may ask why afterschool programs continue to struggle financially. Put simply, it’s because leaders at all levels must walk the talk. In California, members of the Legislature should support increased investments in the ASES program. Meanwhile, members of Congress should support additional funding for the 21st CCLC program. In doing so, we can derive a positive return on investment for our nation by keeping our children safe, healthy and academically engaged.

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Anne Marie Schubert has served as Sacramento County district attorney since 2014. She is a member of the nonprofit organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. Jody Breckenridge is a retired vice admiral who served 34 years in the U.S. Coast Guard. She is a member of the nonprofit organization Mission: Readiness.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. Commentaries published on EdSource represent diverse viewpoints about California’s public education systems. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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