Chicago After-School Programs Face Axe Under Trump’s Budget | WBEZ
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Chicago After-School Programs Face Axe Under Trump’s Budget

After-school programs at more than 100 Chicago public schools face elimination under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget.

Trump last week took aim in his budget blueprint at the only federal support available for after-school programs. He proposed zeroing out 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants that pay for after-school enrichment at low-income schools.

Chicago currently gets $21 million to fund 130 “community schools,” which stay open into the evening with classes and services for students and families. The program costs about $1,000 per child nationally, according to the Afterschool Alliance advocacy group. There are another 70 community schools outside Chicago.

There’s no way to make up that federal money and keep these programs running, said Melissa Mitchell of the Federation of Community Schools, which advocates for community schools in Illinois.

“Given the budget situation in the state, the budget situation in Chicago, I think it would decimate it,” she said of Trump’s proposed budget.

Though community schools are funded by several sources, federal funding is essential because it pays for a full-time coordinator at each school, Mitchell said. These coordinators make sure students and parents get the activities and services they want and need, she said, adding coordinators also make sure the programs run smoothly.

The Trump administration said in a budget summary it wants to end the 21st Century Learning Center program, which was budgeted $1.2 billion this year, because it “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as student achievement.”

Child advocates strongly disagree, pointing to research showing the academic benefits of after school activities. And many educators say after-school programming isn’t simply about boosting test scores.

“I don’t know what the research says, but I know what happens at this school,” said Mary Dixon, principal of Dawes Elementary on Chicago’s Southwest Side, which has a thriving after-school program. “We have hundreds of kids involved everyday. Parents who are forming friendships through parent programs. The actual link between school and families and home and school is strengthened through a community school program.”

Dawes is a Level 1-Plus school, Chicago’s top rating. All the students are considered low-income, and 80 percent are Latino and the rest are African-American.

Dixon ticks off a long list of ways the after school program has helped her parents and students. 

The coordinator revamped student detention by turning it into a program where misbehaving students clean up the school and help teachers, Dixon said. Some students liked helping out so much that they joined a service learning club, she said.

And kids get to try out new activities, from dance to cursive writing. Kids in a gardening club planted a neighborhood garden, Dixon said. In one class, parents and students learned how to paint together.

Eddie Anguiano oversees community schools for Metropolitan Family Services, a social service organization. He said students and families are under a lot of stress, especially ones in low-income communities.

“All these activities -- the robotics classes, the dance classes, the soccer clubs, the parent engagement -- what they do is help them cope with the stressors,” Anguiano said.

Sarah Karp is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @sskedreporter or @wbezeducation.

Investigative reporting and in-depth journalism at WBEZ is made possible in part with support from Doris and Howard Conant.

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