Flexibility granted to states and locals under Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Waivers allows the 21st Century Community Learning Center program to permit local school leaders to continue to provide afterschool programs while also giving them the latitude to choose whole-school reforms to improve the entire day for all students.
Under the ESEA Flexibility Waivers, 26 states and Puerto Rico have given local communities the option of also using the funds to expand learning for all students by redesigning and expanding the school day and/or year. The changes allow state and district leaders to determine how to best meet the needs of their students, while still helping to build strong partnerships between schools and community organizations.
In addition to the flexibility allowed through Waivers, other federal proposals have been introduced that would open up this flexibility to all states. The Obama administration’s Blueprint for Reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, its annual education budget proposals, and the Senate-passed FY 2013 education appropriations bill would all make the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program more flexible and effective by allowing funding to support expanded-time schools. The last two ESEA reauthorizations to pass in the Senate Education Committee also included the flexibility, including the bipartisan 2011 bill. However, while there is wide support for expanding the program, it is not immune to threats. The Afterschool for America’s Children Act purports to allow both out-of-school and expanded-time schools to be considered without giving either priority, however, it would actually make the program more restrictive and ban ELT schools from eligibility for grants. More pressing, in January 2015 the Senate Education Committee began hearings on a draft ESEA reauthorization bill that would eliminate the 21st Century program; instead, after school and expanded-day schools would be consigned to allow use of much broader block grants that are focused on other areas, such as teacher and leader effectiveness and student health and safety.