Two Views: Why cuts to school funding would undo classroom innovation

At IDEA Public Schools, we believe that every student has the potential to matriculate to and through college. We also understand the value that academic enrichment and character-development programming provide to ensure students are spending adequate time studying after school and are preparing for the rigors of college.

Programs like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, do just that.

The 21st Century program supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment for students after school. The program offers students activities that complement their regular academic programs and provides literacy and other educational services to families of participating children.

Unfortunately, the 21st Century federal grant program is at risk of being cut in the president’s budget. It’s puzzling why we would cut programs that have such a positive impact on students, their development and educational and career trajectory. The continued funding of 21st Century is critical to our ability to provide high-quality programming for our students.

This programming has revolutionized the after-school opportunities available to our students. Thanks to this federal investment, IDEA students at our 21st Century campuses have access to increased opportunities and enrichment activities. Though music lessons were once only available to families who could afford them, we now offer such programs to all students — free of charge.

More than 177,000 Texas students have been served by the program. More than 13,300 IDEA students participate in additional after-school programming through 21st Century. Additionally, 21st Century provides opportunities for students to engage enthusiastically in math, reading and science programs, which benefits student performance in these key areas. Teachers have the freedom to innovate projects and labs beyond the regular school day. By working in small groups, 21st Century instructors have developed hands-on programming opportunities that keep students coming back for more.

In Austin, funds provided through 21st Century have granted IDEA Allan students access to computer coding, further advancing the STEM skills of our scholars. Health and wellness is reinforced through a variety of activities, including gardening, cooking and clubs focused on exercise and proper nutrition. Students can also expand on proper grammar and writing form through creative writing classes.

Teachers report substantial progress in homework completion and overall student behavior among the young people participating in 21st Century programs. If programs funded through 21st Century can help achieve those results, then we owe it to our children to continue to support these efforts.

Every day, we can witness the strong, positive outcomes this program has yielded for our community. Providing students with a haven after school — where they can continue to learn, grow and foster their talents and passion — is immeasurable.

We must do what’s right for the children and families in our community and for the economy. We urge the president and our local lawmakers to protect 21st Century funding and reconsider cutting such vital initiatives that truly work for our kids.

Jackson teaches special education at IDEA Allan in Austin.

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