How Community Learning Was Morphed into Child Care

Published May 1, 2000

Providing children with expanded learning opportunities in a safe, drug-free, and supervised environment is a laudable goal . . . but it isn’t one of the goals set by the legislation controlling 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Here’s how the U.S. Department of Education transformed a plan to use public schools for community learning into a program for extending public school operations into out-of-school hours.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers Act requires that centers serve the entire community with a broad range of services. But in 1998, Department officials shifted that focus from the entire community to K-12 education-related child care when they established the criteria for distributing the $200 million Congress had approved for Community Learning Centers in fiscal year 1999.

According to the grant application instructions, “The absolute priority established for this program provides that the Secretary fund only those applications for 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants that include, among the array of services required and authorized by the statute, activities that offer significant expanded learning opportunities for children and youth in the community and that contribute to reduced drug use and violence.

In addition, grantees were required to carry out at least four of the following activities:

Programs for Adults

  • employment counseling, training, and placement;
  • services for individuals who leave school before graduating from secondary school, regardless of the age of such individuals;
  • senior citizen programs;
  • parenting skills education programs;
  • support and training for child day care providers.

Programs Mainly for Adults

  • telecommunications and technology education programs for individuals of all ages;
  • literacy education programs;
  • expanded library service hours to serve community needs;
  • services for individuals with disabilities;
  • nutrition and health programs;
  • integrated education, health, social service, recreational, or cultural programs.

Programs for Children

  • children’s day care services;
  • summer and weekend school programs in conjunction with recreation programs.

With the program benefits now focused on K-12 education, President Clinton was able to use the centers as a club to bash GOP budget proposals. For example, on July 29, 1999, he emphasized that the Republican tax and budget proposals could force “devastating cuts” in after-school and summer school programs run in 21st Century Community Learning Centers. While the President wanted to nearly quadruple the 400,000 students currently served in these “safe and enriching academic environments,” he said the Republican plan would shut out 215,000 students from these programs.