The Department of Education distributes funding for more than 50 discretionary grant programs to state and local educational agencies. Eleven of those programs address the physical, emotional, and social well-being of students both inside and outside the school environment. Those grants are allocated to state and local educational agencies on the basis of a formula or are competitively awarded to local educational agencies and nonprofit entities. Funding for those grant programs totaled $1.5 billion in 2010. The largest grant program in this group is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which accounted for $1.2 billion of the $1.5 billion in funding in 2010. That program awards grants to states according to a formula based on the number of poor students in the state. States then award competitive grants to local educational agencies or community-based organizations to establish or expand centers that offer educational services and opportunities outside normal classroom hours.
This option would eliminate those 11 grant programs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that doing so would reduce federal outlays by about $6 billion through 2016 and by $14 billion through 2021.
An argument in favor of this option is that an evaluation of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program found that those centers were not attaining their stated goals. That evaluation, funded by the Department of Education, concluded that programs funded by those grants had no significant impact on the academic achievement, parental involvement, or homework completion of participating students relative to similar students not participating in the program.1 More broadly, some people argue that educating children is primarily a responsibility of state and local governments, that the federal government's involvement should be minimal, and that grant programs such as the ones this option would eliminate go beyond an appropriate role for the federal government.
An argument against this option is that federal funding is necessary to augment state and local efforts to educate children growing up in poor families; for those families, federal resources help compensate for a lack of resources in their home environment. Opponents of this option may also point to research that has shown that increasing the social, physical, and emotional health of students helps them become higher achievers. Particularly relevant to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is a body of research (compiled by the Harvard Family Research Project) that found that children who participate in well-implemented, high-quality after- school programs make larger cognitive gains while they are enrolled and exhibit better educational outcomes after leaving the program than do children who receive no such intervention.2