There's good news and bad news for summer learning coming out of Washington, D.C. Current and projected federal deficits are putting tremendous pressure on discretionary spending, so many education and social programs are at risk of significant cuts. Yet despite the dire circumstances, President Obama has made education a key priority, including a proposed increase for 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The outcome for summer learning and other education programs will depend in part on the efforts of engaged members of the public. In fact, you can weigh in NOW! See the next section for details.
The Continuing Fight on the FY2011 Budget: You Can Weigh In!
There are currently two related but distinct budget fights in Congress. The first is over the balance of the current fiscal year (FY11), which ends September 30. Congress has never approved a budget for the current year. Through a series of short-term Continuing Resolutions (CRs), Congress has approved funding federal operations through March 4 at the same level as last year. If they don't approve a new budget or another CR for the remaining seven months, the federal government will shut down and stop funding programs. The new majority in the House of Representatives wants to make significant cuts, including a major reduction in 21st Century Community Learning Centers and elimination of all funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service programs, including AmeriCorps, VISTA, Senior Corps, and Learn and Serve America.
We know that summer learning programs are critically important, but they are a small part of the federal budget picture. Our interests will rise or fall along with those of many education, health, and other programs that often fund summer programs. The House may vote as early as today, so we urge you to contact your Representatives and Senators (they'll be voting on this, too, in the next week or so) immediately. Please tell them to oppose cuts to vital education programs, including 21st Century Community Learning Centers and any others that you know affect your work. You can get their contact information by visiting www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.
The President's Budget for Next Year
Also critically important, but slightly less urgent, is the pending fight over next year's budget. President Obama this week released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2012 (October 1, 2011-September 30, 2012). While proposing not to increase funding for federal discretionary programs for at least five years, the President has made education a priority that could be an exception to the rule.
The implications for summer learning remain to be seen. Both President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have expressed strong support for summer learning in the past, but so far that has not translated into new federal investments. As a result, summer learning advocates across the country will need to bring the issue into the mainstream of the national education policy discussion.
Despite the lack of an explicit focus on the importance of summer learning, the President's budget proposal does contain some good news for summer programs. The budget proposes an increase of $100 million dollars to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program (21st Century), raising its allocation from $1.17 billion to $1.27 billion. 21st Century funds both after-school and summer programs, and the official budget summary specifically mentions summer programs, stating:
"The Administration's reauthorization proposal for 21st Century Community Learning Centers would support before- and after-school programs, summer enrichment programs, summer school programs, expanded-learning-time programs, and full-service
community schools. All local projects would provide additional time for students, including students with the greatest academic needs and those who are meeting State academic achievement standards, to participate in (1) academic activities
that are aligned with the instruction those students receive during the regular school day and are targeted to their academic needs; and (2) enrichment and other activities that complement the academic program. Projects could also provide teachers the time they need to collaborate, plan, and engage in professional development within and across grades and subjects. This enhanced flexibility would allow communities to determine the best strategies for enabling their students and teachers to get the time and support they need. The $100 million increase proposed for 2012 would support the broader range of programs and strategies proposed under reauthorization and enable grantees to provide higher-quality programming to students and their families."
The National Summer Learning Association supports this proposal and is pleased that it recognizes the ability of summer programs to provide high quality academic AND enrichment programming for students. We also believe it provides an opportunity to make summer programs a more essential component of education reform by connecting summer learning to school year reforms, such as extension of the school year. Read more about the Association's position on this issue.
The President's budget also proposes funding other education programs that could have positive implications for summer learning, including:
· $150 million for the Promise Neighborhoods initiative;
· $900 million for the Race To The Top program (This time school districts would be able to apply for the grants directly.);
· $300 million for the Investing in Innovation Fund;
· $600 million for School Turnaround Grants (formerly called School Improvement Grants), an increase of $54 million over last year; and
· $365 million for the Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students Initiative, which consolidates several existing programs.
Again, this proposal represents the first step in a long budget process that Congress will soon consider. We will do our best to keep you informed and to engage you in the policy process. If you have any questions or ideas, please contact the Association's policy director, Bob Seidel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.