Delaware is sorely deficient in affordable after-school and summer learning programs, a problem that disproportionally affects the scholastic performance of children from low-income families.
That’s the conclusion of a group of mostly educators, program operators and state officials, according to a report released Wednesday. Known as SAIL, the 17-member Statewide After-school Initiative Learning Task Force was created by state House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a Democrat from the Bear area.
“Delaware clearly trails other states when it comes to expanded learning opportunities for our children,” task force chair Jack Polidori said.
Noting that much progress has been made in implementing early education programs in Delaware, Polidori added, “Now it’s time to focus thoughtfully upon children who are a bit older as they move towards adolescence. We need to close this gaping hole in our state’s education policy and programming. Keep kids busy, engaged, learning … and out of trouble.”
A 2014 survey found that more than 26,000 Delaware students participate in after-school programs — activities such as reading, math, arts, computer coding, robotics, career exploration, art, music and physical fitness, often coupled with nutritional meals or schools.
But the survey also found that 48,000 students — nearly twice as many — would participate if a program was available and affordable.
Such out-of-school educational programs help close “equity, opportunity, and achievement gaps” and provide safe, wholesome activities for children and teenagers, the report found. Parents whose income is in the highest 20 percent nationally spend almost seven times more on enrichment opportunities for their children than those in the lowest 20 percent, the report found.
Noting that the same survey found that eight in 10 Delaware parents support public funding for such programs, the new report decried the fact that in 2008 the state cut $10.4 million in so-called “extra time” funding for school districts to provide before- and after-school programs.
The report also found that while a federal program that provided three to five years of funding has generated many Delaware programs, only one has been able to remain in operation after federal funding ceased.
Besides school districts, one major provider is the YMCA of Delaware, which has branches throughout the state and spends a “sizeable amount of its own resources” on such programs.
The report has three main recommendations to overcome Delaware’s deficiencies:
Restore some of the “extra time” funding;
Create an Extended Learning Opportunities Council to recommend and push for improvements, among other duties to reform Delaware’s system;
Conduct a detailed market study to document Delaware’s operational programs and “identify gaps in services.”
Longhurst, task force co-chair and a board member of her local YMCA, said members want to ensure Delaware students have access to high-quality programs “that keep them engaged, boost attendance and improve literacy, increasing the likelihood that they will do well in school, graduate, and participate fully in our society.”