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After Hours: In his campaign for the White House, Vice President Al Gore has said he wants to spend an additional $11 billion over 10 years on after- school programs. But a report from the Washington-based Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, argues that the supply of after-school programs already "far exceeds the demand for them."

Written by Darcy Olsen, the institute's director of education and child policy, the paper cites national surveys showing that enrollments in such programs average only 59 percent of capacity.

"The idea that current social conditions demand a greater expansion of after-school programs is undermined by the fact that many parents and children choose not to participate in them," Ms. Olsen writes in the report, which was released last month.

She also argues that parents are capable of making after-school arrangements for their children without the government's help.

And she cites statistics showing that only 2 percent of 5- to 12-year-olds regularly care for themselves after school. And even if they do, she says, it's not for a long period of time.

She called funding for after-school programs, such as the U.S. Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a "down payment on a more expansive government-run school system." That program's budget stood at $453 million for the 2000 fiscal year.

State legislators could be more helpful to parents by giving them tuition tax credits that would allow them to select their children's schools, Ms. Olsen argues.

The report also contends that there is no evidence to show that after-school programs improve academic achievement or keep children out of trouble.

"Practically speaking," the author writes, "... juvenile crime seems to call for narrow, highly targeted crime-prevention efforts, not universal after-school programs for all children."

Walter C. Farrell, a professor of social work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who runs after-school programs, called the Cato Institute report a position paper that is "interspersed with studies that are not central to the point being made."

He said data on children in "self-care" are not very reliable because such information is self-reported, without any "hard, objective findings."

"You don't advance policy based on what people say," said Mr. Farrell, who runs privately financed after-school programs for low- income minority children in Durham, N.C., and other locations throughout the state.

—Linda Jacobson

Vol. 19, Issue 42, Page 5

Published in Print: July 12, 2000, as Children & Families
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