| July 5, 2017

Oklahoma State Department of Education seeks grant applicants for ineffective program

A federal education program costing taxpayers more than $1 billion a year has produced no demonstrable benefit, according to multiple U.S. Department of Education reports. In some cases, the program has led to a measurable decline in student behavior ratings.

Despite these findings, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has requested applications from schools and partnering organizations for grants under the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program.

Federal education officials describe 21st CCLC as a program supporting community learning centers that provide “academic enrichment opportunities” during non-school hours, particularly for children in high poverty and low-performing schools.

Federal education bureaucrats say the program helps students meet state and local student standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math. They say 21st CCLC “offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that can complement their regular academic programs; and offers literacy and other educational services to the families of participating children.”

The 21st CCLC program originated in 1994 as an unfunded federal program under the Bill Clinton administration. The program first received appropriated funding ($40 million) in 1998 and was later expanded to $1 billion by 2002 during the George W. Bush administration.

Though efforts were made during Bush’s time in office to curtail spending on the program by $400 million, pressure applied by celebrity activists and 21st CCLC supporters derailed the planned reduction in funding. The program continues to spend in excess of $1 billion annually.

Multiple U.S. Department of Education reports from a study conducted from 2003 to 2005 revealed no demonstrable benefit from CCLC. Also found in some instances was a measurable decline in student behavior ratings.

Mark Dynarski, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has evaluated 21st CCLC and outlined his findings in an article for Brookings (“The $1.2 billion afterschool program that doesn’t work”). Dynarski highlights performance summaries by the U.S. Department of Education. These reports confirmed the continued poor performance of the program revealed by Dynarski’s own study several years earlier. In the 2009-2010 reporting period, Dynarski notes, “nearly all of the performance targets…were not reached.”

Some studies have found some carefully worded benefit to the program by polling students on how they feel about the program or what their perceived benefit was. Dynarski says that because the study asked the students what their perceived benefit was, rather than using empirical evidence, the results of the study became less reliable.

In addition to the federal costs of the program, local communities and the state of Oklahoma incur costs associated with the program.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education issued a press release in June requesting applications for CCLC funds. Rick Peters, superintendent of Caney Valley Schools, located between Tulsa and Bartlesville, was quoted in the release.

“Without the 21st Century Program our students would suffer,” he said. “The two years between grants were difficult. Without grant money, our after school program was held together by a shoestring.”

During the intervening years between being awarded grants from 21st CCLC, Caney Valley School was left to pay the cost of an after-school program using local or state funding.

In addition to residual costs of the program being footed by local communities and taxpayers statewide, the state education department will spend taxpayer funds to hire grant readers. They will serve as peer reviewers, working from home via the Internet, in order to award 21st CCLC grants through a competitive process.

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