The Trump administration wants to cut $1 billion in federal education funding for after-school programs. Many of these programs provide low-cost or free academic opportunities for low-income students.
White House officials say those programs have not been effective. But some local educators, parents -- and kids -- disagree.
In 2014, a national after-school advocacy group surveyed more than 30,000 households across the U.S. One out of two parents cited cost as a barrier to enrolling their children in an after-school program.
“On top of buying food, and buying clothes, and toys, and you know, anything else -- field trips,” said Durham resident Carmen Settles, whose daughter Marley is in the first grade.
“And if you look at it, if someone was to tell you upfront, like ‘Hey, for the next five years you’re gonna spend this amount of dollars,’ you’d be like, there’s no way," she said. "Where am I gonna get that from?”
But Settles doesn’t have a choice. As the owner of a food truck and catering business, she works irregular hours. She can’t be at home with Marley after school. And she wants her daughter to do something productive during that time.
Fortunately, next year, Marley can attend an after-school program at her elementary school -- for free.
“Which is great,” she said. “It’s like getting a raise.”
Marley goes to school at Eno Valley Elementary, where more than 40 percent of students come from low-income families. Almost 70 kids are in the after-school program there.
On a recent afternoon, students munched on Scooby cookie snacks and yogurt. Then, it was time for homework and enrichment activities, including role-playing exercises.
This free after-school program is entirely funded by a federal education grant the Trump administration wants to scrap.
It’s called the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and has been around for nearly two decades. It funds extracurricular activities for 1.6 million children across the U.S. In North Carolina, more than 18,000 students participate in more than 100 programs across the state. Last school year, the state received more than $30 million in funding from this federal program.
Officials in the Trump administration say the program hasn’t improved student outcomes.
“The way we justified it was, these programs are going to help these kids do better in school and get better jobs,” said White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. “And we can’t prove that that’s happening.”
Crystal Avent disagrees. Avent works for the Durham chapter of the nonprofit Communities in Schools and has run the after-school program at Eno Valley for three years.
“I’ve seen some of our children go from reading level 1 to 3 on their report cards, and that is huge progress,” Avent said.
Program staff support the work of classroom teachers by helping students get their homework done and addressing their academic weaknesses, according to Avent.
“So when the parents come, they trust us to say, ‘Okay, I know that bringing my kids here is a safe place. I can go to work’,” Avent said. “We have bus transportation to get them home. So it’s a win-win situation.”
LeRon is a fourth-grader in the program. He says his parents work a lot. If he wasn’t in the after-school program, LeRon says he wouldn’t be doing much. The after-school program offers him options.
“I love this after school… because we do so [many] interesting things” like building things, he said. “They always take a lot of imagination and creativity to make them. That’s probably what I mostly like about this after school.”
Trump’s budget blueprint has many hurdles ahead. But if his proposed cut to after-school funding goes through, the program at Eno Valley Elementary could look very different.