Erquiaga: Why Trump’s ‘America First’ Budget Puts Children in Poverty Last

When President Trump’s budget arrived earlier this month, I happened to be visiting schools in Atlanta that could soon become collateral damage in the upcoming budget battles. These visits are typically very upbeat and filled with stories of students whose lives have been transformed by the dropout prevention program where I work. But that day in Atlanta, to the educators who knew what’s at stake if these drastic cuts become reality, the mood suddenly felt like a wake.
The administration’s blueprint would reduce the U.S. Department of Education’s budget by 13 percent, or about $9 billion. With numbers like that, someone is going to pay the price. Unfortunately, that someone appears to be 14.5 million children living in poverty in Georgia and across this country.
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One cut in particular exemplifies the fact that this budget does not take into account the needs of our most at-risk students. The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program — which has provided solid return on investment while serving 1.6 million children and youth across the United States — would be eliminated. This program allocates $1.2 billion in funding for before-school, after-school, and summer programs that help America’s children navigate sometimes choppy waters.
As president and CEO of Communities in Schools, a national organization that works full time inside schools helping at-risk students stay in school and succeed in life, I know that eliminating funding for these after-school programs would devastate our students. These aren’t a diversion that we’ve simply been throwing tax dollars at; they’re proven services that change the trajectories of lives every day in America. This is how public-private partnerships so valued in conservative circles are designed to work.
To give a sense of the good work being done across the nation, here are examples from two states:
Georgia: The local CIS network receives $3.3 million in 21st CCLC funding. This money helps serve more than 2,200 students in poverty and allows CIS to provide after-school services such as tutoring homework assistance. Children are sometimes provided snacks and meals, as well as important life skills programs, such as alcohol and drug prevention, that can provide timely redirects. During that visit to Georgia, when the president’s budget made its early rounds, I heard firsthand from people who are devoted to helping these at-risk students how crushing the cuts would be for these kids.
Texas: The 21st CCLC program at Communities in Schools of North Texas provides more than 1,300 students with academic support through homework help and tutoring; project-based learning in science, math, music, and art, as well as positive behavior reinforcement through character development and goal setting; and social-emotional supports. Additionally, this program exposes students to college and career opportunities through field trips and additional learning opportunities. Many of these kids will go on to become the first in their families to graduate from a university. These can be life-altering experiences.
Ann Pape, CEO of CIS of North Texas, says that in the short term, the ripple effect “would be devastating to students and their families who rely on these programs.” The real impact, though, would begin to manifest itself with higher societal costs over time. “We will see the long-term impact when students fall through the gaps academically, when they get involved with gangs and criminal activity after school, and when they lack the soft skills, self-esteem, and character needed to survive and thrive in the 21st century workforce,” Pape warns.
The President’s Office of Management and Budget received swift blowback when the director defended these proposed cuts by arguing that there is no evidence that students benefit educationally from after-school programs. I suspect a numbers person would appreciate not merely anecdotes, of which there are many, but real data.
Fortunately, we have plenty of it.
CIS has accumulated a body of evidence that our tiered approach helps break through the barriers of poverty that often prevent children from succeeding in school. Our most recent Impact Report found that among our case-managed students, 99 percent stayed in school, 93 percent were promoted to the next grade, 91 percent graduated or received a GED, and 88 percent improved their academics.
What’s more, nearly 20 years of other evidence shows that students who attend after-school programs are in class more often, have lower rates of suspension, and are likely to be promoted, get better grades, drop out less frequently, improve in reading and math, develop academic self-esteem, and develop social and emotional skills. Similar evidence can be found here and here.
Federal spending demonstrates our priorities as a nation and reflects our values as a people. We need a budget that includes programs like 21st CCLC to demonstrate that we are #AllinForKids, our rallying cry to protect these children in need. Congress has the power to right this proposal and to continue investing in America’s children — not in some superfluous program that has aged out, but in one that is vital to changing lives and supporting kids in the communities that need it most.
Dale Erquiaga is the president and CEO of Communities in Schools.

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