A federally funded after-school program used by a dozen St. Louis-area school districts with a high proportion of low-income students is among the targets of President Donald Trump’s proposed education budget cuts.
Without funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, hundreds of students in the St. Louis area will go without extra learning time, field trips, hot meals and safe places to be, officials with the districts said.
But the U.S. Department of Education, which could see a $9 billion funding reduction under Trump’s budget, said the $1.2 billion initiative that’s been around for two decades “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement” — a claim backed up by education department studies.
Area district officials disagree.
“Our students’ grades have come up,” said Kimberly Wooden, who runs the program that serves about 600 students in the Jennings School District.
The north St. Louis County district is applying for its fourth five-year grant to continue the effort. Without it, the district wouldn’t be able to offer the program, Wooden said.
“It is crucial that we receive funding,” she said.
The federal grants are funneled through state education agencies. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education doled out $16.4 million in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Students typically get about 90 minutes of tutoring every afternoon, but school leaders see benefits beyond just grade-point averages. They “provide just a really safe place for our kids to be, keeps them off the streets, gives them some place to go,” said Judy King, who is charge of extracurricular activities for St. Louis Public Schools.
She said kids are able to learn in a more interactive environment and be exposed to community institutions, like the Zoo and the Missouri Botanical Garden, that don’t fit into the school day.
“You’ll hear a little more noise in afterschool than you’ll hear in a classroom during the regular school day,” King said.
In Illinois, about 800 students across eight schools in the Cahokia School District — where 40 percent of the children live below the poverty line — take part in the program. The district dropped a different after-school option a few years ago because of a loss of funding, and the 21st Century grant, which the district has offered for 13 years, isn’t big enough to serve all the students who are interested.
“We have a huge wait list every year of families that are trying to get into the program,” said Tiffany Taylor, who writes grant proposals for Cahokia schools and advises on afterschool services.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney