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Bush Prepares for War, Leaving Kids Behind

As America is gearing up to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on an overseas war that has split this nation, it is also cutting spending on vital programs that would ensure a healthy future here at home.

The Bush administration has recommended unprecedented slashing of federal after-school funding from $1 billion to $600 million in fiscal year '04. It seems that President George W. Bush has left behind his commitment to "leave no child behind."

For more than 18 months, I have championed increased participation in after-school programs for school-age children in the city of Detroit. We called this effort Mayor's Time.

Why is this a priority for our city? Evidence shows that cities in which 50 percent of school-age children participate in after-school programs are five times more likely to be healthy cities. The U.S. Department of Education has proved correlation between participation in those programs and a decline in juvenile delinquency, truancy and criminal behavior. After-school programs have also been linked to increased school attendance, student achievement and self-esteem.

To justify his 40-percent slash, Bush cites a study that claims after-school programs do not increase test scores. The methodology of that study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research of Princeton, N.J., has been questioned by the After-school Alliance, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of these programs. The findings are based on just one year of data from the 21st Century Learning Centers initiative, and focused solely on elementary schools, even though the program serves all school-age children.

At that time, the improvement of test scores was one part of the program, but not its sole responsibility. The program was designed also to offer students an array of services, programs and activities in areas such as youth development, drug and violence prevention, counseling, art, music, recreation, technology and character. All of these programs are designed to reinforce and complement students' academic curriculum.

Community learning centers also offer opportunities for literacy and related educational development to families of participating students. Therefore, although test scores in the seven schools cited by the study may not have improved as dramatically as desired, these programs remain critically important, as does maintaining federal funding at its current level.

Besides, if the president insists on relying on this study, he should note its conclusion that African-American, Hispanic and female students make impressive gains in math and science if they're involved in after-school programs. Parental involvement in schools improves, too.

The president's proposed cut would severely diminish the 21st Century's ability to provide funding to thousands of after-school programs nationwide and here in Detroit. Just last month, I announced that 10 Detroit public schools -- in collaboration with Mayor's Time, City Connect and several other entities -- were awarded a $2.6-million 21st Century grant to improve the quality, quantity and scope of after-school programs in Detroit.

Our grants are not in jeopardy, because they have already been awarded, but the president's action will have a tremendous impact on America's cities for years to come. If Congress goes along with the cut, more than half a million children will lose potential access to the after-school programs that provide safe learning environments and increase their chances of being positive contributors to America's future.

Two years ago, the No Child Left Behind Act created a road map for expanding the 21st Century program and for federal funding that would better meet the need for after-school programs. Last year, the administration failed to provide the prescribed funding. Today, it is recommending a 40-percent cut?

Americans must call on Congress to restore badly needed funds to the 21st Century Learning Center program and to make after-school activities available to all children and families, so that no child, indeed, is left behind.

— Kwame Kilpatrick
Bush prepares for war, sacrificing after-school programs along the way
Detroit Free Press
Feb. 28, 2003


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