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After-school programs provide elementary and middle school students at Fremont Public Schools with a place to grow and learn outside of regular school hours.

The programs provide students with healthy snacks, help with school work, and the extra attention necessary to work on concepts that will help them in the classroom. Students are also exposed to enrichment activities, such as STEM, writing and art clubs.

“We provide supervision and a safe place for the kids to be, but a lot of it is about giving them academic support. We get homework done, and a big portion of the program is dedicated to enrichment as well,” Leah Hladik, Program Director of Fremont Expanded Learning Opportunities, said.

Under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, after-school programs at FPS and around the country are at risk of being defunded.

Trump’s budget proposal, released in March, would eliminate the $1.2 billion 21st Century Community Learning Center grant program, which serves about 1.6 million children nationally.

In 2016, FPS received a $512,250 federal grant through 21st Century Community Learning Centers for programs at Bell Field, Clarmar, Grant, and Howard Elementary Schools as well as Johnson Crossing Academic Center and Fremont Middle School.

“This grant program funds all of our after-school programs, we get generous donations and in-kind contributions from community partners but other than that we rely on these funds. So if this budget were to go through we have about 600 to 700 students that would be left without after-school and summer learning programs,” Hladik said.

Through the grant, after-school programs at FPS elementary schools and JCAC are offered every day from school dismissal until 6 p.m., as well as a 40-day program over the summer.

The programs are designed to provide students with academic enrichment that coordinates with what is being taught inside the classroom.

“Our programs are aligned with the school day, so the academic enrichment that is received after-school is aligned with the academic topics that are being covered during the school day, so that is one of the critical pieces,” Jan Handa, Coordinator of Nebraska 21st CCLC, said.

In Nebraska, 21st CCLCs funding is provided by the Federal government through the No Child Left Behind Act and is administered by the Nebraska Department of Education.

The 21st CCLC program allows schools, nonprofits and community-based organizations to fund before- and after-school programs. The money pays for academic support and enrichment for students, particularly those attending high-poverty, low-performing schools.

“After-school programs definitely provide the results that they are intended to provide, one of the main things in making them available to students is that we have a lot of low income students that need that extra support and wouldn’t get it otherwise,” Hladik said.

According to Hladik, during the 2015-16 school year 73 percent of students in the district that received free or reduced lunch rates, participated in the after-school programs.

In addition, 29 percent of English Language Learners (ELL) in the district participated in the programs. An English Language Learner is a student who is learning the English language in addition to his or her native tongue.

“So we here in Fremont see high percentages of our low income students participate in these programs, and these are the students we really want to have in the program because it helps them with the academics, and again they are not getting the support otherwise,” Hladik said.

The after-school programs at FPS are meant to narrow the achievement gap between different groups of students. The achievement gap shows up in grades, standardized-test scores, course selection, dropout rates, and college-completion rates, among other success measures.

“We are giving kids opportunities to participate in these activities and a lot of our teachers express that each year they see achievement from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year raise in subjects like math and reading specifically,” Hladik said.

“We see a huge narrowing of achievement gaps in our summer program. When compared to non-participating peers Fremont summer program students experienced higher growth rates in math and reading from fall 2014 to fall 2015.”

In defense of the proposed cuts, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said there is no evidence that the programs help kids do better in school.

“There’s no demonstrable evidence they (after-school programs that feed kids) are helping kids do better at school,” he said at a White House press conference in March.

Hladik said the idea that after-school programs don’t benefit students is “out there”.

“I can’t stress enough that our kiddos really benefit from programs like this and the notion that these don’t help students succeed is absurd,” she said.

“I see it every year, you can go in and tour the programs see the kids in action and they will tell you how much fun they are having and how much they are learning.”

Discretionary spending limits, addressed by Trump’s budget proposal, are set by congressional budget resolutions.

“It will be Congress that will vote on the budget, and 21st CCLC has been around since the beginning of NCLB so we are in our 14th year. The law that authorized NCLB was up for reauthorization during the prior administration and when that passed it had bipartisan support, so we will see how this plays out,” Handa said.

If the cut to 21st CCLC were to be enacted by Congress, FPS would have until the end of September to provide after-school programs.

“It would really be devastating for a lot of the kids here in Fremont, it would be a tremendous disservice to a lot of our kids if we didn’t have these funds available to provide these programs,” Hladik said.

In 2015-2016, grant awards by 21st CCLC totaled $5,496,155 to benefit students in 116 sites in 31 Nebraska communities.