The research is clear. Schools that invest in comprehensive afterschool and summer programs see the positive effects they have on student engagement and learning. Such programs give students a space where they feel a sense of belonging, form friendships with their classmates and earn boosts in their self-esteem. Yet, district leaders can do more to support these programs for students with the help of pandemic relief dollars.
A recent report from the Afterschool Alliance suggests that among the $122 billion in ESSER funds allocated to districts across the U.S., only about $5.4 billion (8%) went to afterschool and summer programs specifically.
Their findings stem from a comprehensive review of 6,315 school district plans that mention afterschool and summer learning opportunities. Among these plans, roughly 4,000 noted afterschool or summer learning in some form or fashion, though the budgets were rather unclear in some cases, the researchers argue.
“While this is a significant amount of money, it is a small slice of the funding available and much lower than districts’ 20 percent learning recovery set aside, indicating that these offerings are not a primary strategy school districts are suing to address learning recovery despite being included as an allowable use of districts’ funds,” the report reads.
How district leaders can improve their afterschool and summer programs
As of August 2023, states have spent on average 62.2% of their ESSER funds, leaving them with a substantial amount of money left to spend, according to an analysis by FutureEd. Fortunately, the researchers from the Afterschool Alliance offer five recommendations for district leaders on how they can use their remaining pandemic relief dollars to improve their afterschool and summer programs.
First and foremost, leaders must prioritize these programs as an ongoing strategy to accelerate students’ learning and engagement. While most districts included these programs in their ARP ESSER spending as a way to close learning gaps, only 6% invested in both afterschoool and summer programs that “extended beyond tutoring and remediation or recovery support,” the report reads.
Secondly, leaders must start leveraging community partners to provide this support. Identify organizations that can meet the critical needs of these programs. Doing so will inevitably strengthen ties to the community and enrich students’ learning opportunities.
Thirdly, you should dedicate resources to coordinate afterschool and summer-learning opportunities. Greater alignment between these programs and state-level academic standards, communication with staff and a close partnership between school and programs are crucial for the success of these programs. Many districts achieved this by creating a dedicated position for out-of-school time programming.
Next, consider braiding funds in order to provide these funds. For example, many school districts interviewed in the report mentioned how tying ARP ESSER funds in with other revenue streams, including Title I, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative, or other state-specific grants, helped them to enhance support for their afterschool and summer programs.
Lastly, take advantage of resources and tools made available through the Engage Every Student Initiative to provide quality learning opportunities for students. The EES initiative allows greater access to these learning programs by providing schools with the tools and resources they need to start or grow their programs. Leaders can use the Education Department’s website to find tip sheets, research and other resources on how to better provide these opportunities in their districts.