Student Well-Being

Demand For After-School Programs Outstrips Supply by Millions

By Kathryn Baron — October 17, 2014 4 min read
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A burst of interest in after-school programs over the past decade has far surpassed their growth, shutting out millions of families that need a safe place to send their children while parents are at work, according to a new survey released Thursday by the Afterschool Alliance.

The 2014 edition of America After 3PM, which is based on responses from 30,720 households in every state and the District of Columbia, found that more than 10 million children attend after-school programs, up from 6.5 million in 2004, when the Alliance conducted its first survey.

The survey also found that 89 percent of parents said they were satisfied with their child’s program and 83 percent agreed that having after-school programs available helps working parents keep their jobs.

That peace of mind is increasingly hard to find. Nationwide, there are 19.4 million students—two for every child enrolled—whose parents want them in an after-school program, but can’t find anything available or affordable.

“Despite the increase, we found that the country is not coming close to meeting that demand,” said Jodi Grant, the executive director of the Alliance, during a recorded telephone call with journalists posted online here.

Low-income, black, and Hispanic parents feel the brunt of the gap between supply and demand. They have a harder time than higher-income and white families finding affordable places and often lack a safe way to get their children to the programs and home again.

Partly as a consequence of that disparity, 11.3 million children—800,000 of them in elementary school—are on their own after school, with no adult supervision.

That puts them in a dangerously vulnerable situation said Syracuse, N.Y., Police Chief Frank Fowler, who was also on the phone conference.

“They don’t stop learning when the final bell rings; kids are always learning. The questions are: What are they learning and who’s teaching them?” said Fowler.

Unsupervised adolescents are at greater risk of pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, and of falling into gangs, added former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who led a successful campaign during his administration to create the After-School Education and Safety program. The voter-approved initiative established a fund of about $500,000 a year to pay for before- and after-school programs.

Before becoming governor, Schwarzenegger founded the After-School All-Stars, a nonprofit organization that runs comprehensive after-school programs serving more than 87,000 students in 13 cities across the country. He said it’s his “crusade” to try to give every child the same support, mentoring, and coaching that he received as a child.

“Due to the fact that most students come from homes where both parents are working, we have a duty to provide safe havens for our children during the crucial hours from 3 to 6 p.m.,” said Schwarzenegger in a separate written statement from the Alliance. “After-school programs do remarkable things for our children, families, and communities . . . These programs help kids with homework, teach them teamwork, engage them in community service, pair them with mentors, help them to be physically fit, involve them in activities like rocketry and robotics, and much more.”

Nationally, 18 percent of students attend the type of comprehensive after-school program described by Schwarzenegger and defined by the Alliance as a program a child that regularly attends, provides a supervised enriching environment, has a knowledgeable and well-trained staff, and offers a variety of activities.

Washington, D.C., has the largest enrollment with 32,436 children, or 35 percent of public school students, attending after-school programs. Hawaii and California take second and third place with 26 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

At the other end, Idaho’s 8 percent enrollment is the lowest in the country, followed by Utah with a 10 percent participation rate.

An interactive online map provides enrollment data for every state along with other in-depth information including the average costs, the amount of time children spend in after-school programs, barriers to participation, what factors parents consider in selecting a program, and how many families want after-school care but can’t find an available program.

Increasing the number of programs would require about $5 billion more from every level of government plus private and philanthropic investments. The federal government’s contribution, which represents the largest share of funding through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, has remained fairly flat.

When the 21st Century program was reauthorized under No Child Left Behind in 2002, the goal was to reach $2.5 billion in funding by 2007. “We’re not even at half of that,” said Grant.

The 2014 budget of nearly $1.15 billion is only slightly above last year’s appropriation and still lower than 2011 and 2012.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.