Students, advocates, and elected officials rally for dedicated afterschool program funding

HARRISBURG, JUNE 5 -- A coalition of elected officials, students and advocates rallied in the state Capitol today to support a dedicated funding source for after-school programs across Pennsylvania. Led by Sunrise of Philadelphia, a community-based after-school program and family resource provider, advocates spoke about the need for safe environments for students after traditional school hours.

After-school programs — sometimes called out-of-school, or OST, programs — are defined as programs that provide learning opportunities, workforce development, or mentoring relationships following the school day.

Many of these programs focus on STEM, art, or other areas that may be overshadowed during school hours. They give students space to receive mentorship, develop socially, and learn career and leadership skills to prepare them for the work force.

“My daughter went to the after-school program at Shine, and some of my colleagues had their children go through the Shine after-school program. It’s in every community, no matter urban district or rural district, poor district or wealthy district,” said state Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, co-chair of the House Afterschool Caucus. “Each student needs that opportunity to learn after school.”

Attendees called for dedicated, recurring funding in the state budget for after-school programs. In his budget address earlier this year, Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed $11.5 million to establish the Building Opportunity through Out of School Time program.

“Investment in after-school programming and out-of-school time activities is investment in care, safety and our collective future. Care right now creates positive change in children’s lives that extends into their higher education, their careers, their future opportunities and their impact on our world. The importance of this work is immeasurable. I look forward to advocating for it on behalf of my constituents and all Pennsylvanians,” said state Sen. Nikil Saval, D-Phila.

Children in after-school programs attend school more often, get better grades, and are more likely to graduate. Because they provide safe and supervised places for students to spend their time, these programs reduce youth violence while improving graduation rates.

“The Ignite program showed me that after school is a very welcoming place...after school taught me that not all challenges I face have to be done alone,” said Jalen Clark Carr, after-school youth ambassador for the state. “It helped me see that even though dangerous stuff is around me, I don’t have to be a part of it.”

But due to a lack of funding, families struggle to find and afford out-of-school time programs. For every student enrolled in an afterschool program, four are waiting to enroll. Research suggests that more than 700,000 children are waiting to take advantage of an OST program statewide.

“Despite evidence of significant benefits and clear demand for our families, Pennsylvania has no dedicated state funding to provide out-of-school programming. With a dedicated line item for out-of-school and summer programming in Pennsylvania, imagine the number of opportunities we can provide our youth to engage in STEM projects, leadership opportunities and career exploration,” said Deanna Dugan, assistant director for afterschool programs for Propel Schools in Pittsburgh. “Our children deserve to learn and flourish in a caring, safe environment.”

“Our economy in PA simply would not function without after-school programming.” said state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Phila., co-chair of the House Afterschool Caucus. “To give every student the opportunity to safely explore their favorite subjects, career skills and more, we must fight for afterschool funding in this year’s budget! I can think of no better way to invest our tax dollars.”

Studies show that for every $1 invested in out-of-school-time programs in Pennsylvania, there is a positive $6.69 return on investment for participants and communities combined.

“We are incredibly fortunate and proud to have some quality after-school programs all across the state…and we all know what happens when these kinds of efforts can’t continue,” said state Sen. David Argall, R-Carbon/Luizerne/Schuylkill. “It’s not just a Schuylkill or a Carbon or a Luzerne County issue. It’s not just a rural issue. It’s not just an urban issue. And it’s sure as hell isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue. It’s a PA issue.”

“It is time to dedicate resources to funding after school at the state level so that new programs can be developed, existing programs can evolve and even more students can have access to these programs that are so impactful,” said Cecelia Armstrong, communication and outreach associate with Sunrise of Philadelphia. “Students in PA are hurting, but afterschool heals.”

Today’s news conference can be viewed in its entirety here: