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Students could have better access to after-school programs

Many young people have experienced stressors and learning loss during the pandemic, and advocates say now more than ever after-school opportunities are needed to support young peoples’ academic success and mental and social well-being.

Sponsored by Rep. Fue Lee (DFL-Mpls), HF786 would create a competitive grant program and appropriate funds to expand high-quality after-school learning opportunities.

The bill was held over by the House Education Finance Committee Wednesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF821, awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids) is the sponsor.

Education Finance committee hears HF786 02/24/21

Currently, some after-school programs in the state are supported through the federal 21st Century Community Learning Center Program, which is administered by the Department of Education. However, only about a third of the applicants receive funding, according to Kari Denissen Cunnien, executive director at Ignite Afterschool, the statewide after-school network.  

“This really demonstrates that there is high demand for the opportunities from districts and community-based organizations across the state but there are just not the resources to make sure kids have access,” she said.

These after-school programs provide hands-on, project-based learning, such as gardening, service learning, building robots and STEM activities, Denissen Cunnien said. “High quality after school and summer learning complements formal school learning but it doesn’t replicate it.”

She cited research that indicates regular participation in after-school and summer learning while students are in the elementary grades results in higher math and reading scores at age 15, and that low-income students tend to see the largest gains in GPA and other measures of academic performance.

The proposal specifies that grants should be awarded to programs that primarily serve low-income students in grades K-12, and that they’re awarded equitably among the geographical regions of the state.

The appropriation is currently unspecified, but it would allocate 5% to the department to administer the grant program and evaluate program effectiveness. It would appropriate 2.5% to the department to contract with Ignite Afterschool to assist programs with continuous improvement and technical assistance.

Noting the two appropriations for administrative activities, Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) said it seems steep and asked for more details about how the money would be used. She also cautioned that a few after-school programs she’s observed in Minnesota seemed unstructured and lacked oversight and accountability.

“I’m hoping that if this proposal goes forward there’s actually going to be some teeth behind the accountability that needs to occur, especially now with an achievement gap that’s growing,” Erickson said.

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