Something great happened in the U.S. Congress last week that is being cheered by millions of low income children, their families and afterschool providers and advocates throughout our nation. Last Wednesday, April 15, 2015, the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee voted unanimously to restore funding for after-school programs in the next federal budget. This is an important win for two reasons: first, it successfully sets the stage for a full Senate vote ahead of actions by the House and President; and second, it demonstrates that positive things happen when we put aside partisan politics and take action.
The unanimous, bi-partisan (10 Democrats and 12 Republicans) HELP vote was the result of enormous efforts by grassroots organizers and elected leaders across America. The stakes were very high, as the Senate was threatening to completely eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) funding altogether. This is the only federal funding stream dedicated exclusively to before school, after-school and summer learning programs.
The USC Schwarzenegger Institute is proud to be a leader in this remarkable grassroots coalition, along with the Afterschool Alliance, the Afterschool State Networks, and the After-School All-Stars (ASAS).
The Schwarzenegger Institute’s National After-School Summit on March 24th was organized to bring the coalition of state networks, afterschool providers and advocates together to reinforce nationwide efforts to keep this funding. The Summit, which brought together leaders from local and state government, law enforcement, technology, business and philanthropy, used social media to educate key legislators about the value of investing in after-school programs. Using the hashtag #afterschool, the summit’s 500 participants tweeted directly to members of Congress to make the case for afterschool funding. With the help of Governor Schwarzenegger and summit participants like Tim Ferriss and Evernote’s CEO Phil Libin, who have huge twitter followings, we created a “trending” topic which resulted in tens of thousands of messages going to Congress.
The Summit follows two years of hard work by Governor Schwarzenegger, the Institute, and our partners at ASAS, and the Afterschool Alliance. Last year when Congress was negotiating the budget and the federal funding for afterschool programs was at risk, Governor Schwarzenegger led a delegation to Washington D.C. to educate and persuade key members of Congress of the value of continued investment in these programs. Joining the Governor was Bonnie Reiss, Global Director of his Institute, Price School of Public Policy’s Dean, Jack Knott (armed with volumes of research and data to support the programs value) , and our incredible colleagues Ben Paul (ASAS) and Jodi Grant (the Alliance). Working with then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy , who both organized bi-partisan meetings of their members, our efforts helped to preserve funding. This year, funding was on the chopping block again—and, again, the Institute, ASAS and the Alliance worked together to shine a spotlight on this issue.
Our Congressional champions include Senators Barbara Boxer and Lisa Murkowski, who did extraordinary work to craft the amendment; bi-partisan co-sponsors Senators Al Franken, Bernie Sanders, Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy; and the offices of Senators Murkowski, Franken, Sanders, and Patty Murray, who hammered out the final compromise language. Thank you to these incredible Senators and their staff!
While we are optimistic that this bi-partisan agreement will gain final congressional approval, this fight is not over. The amendment will go to the Senate floor for a full vote, before it heads to the House. But as the Summit reminds us, actions matter. Let’s keep demanding that our elected officials advance policy, not politics.