It seems like the $1.2 billion spent for America’s after school programs was a waste of money. At least that’s what Mark Dynarski concluded this month in an article for the Brookings Institute.
Dynarski outlined how after school programs began with $40 million in funds, and how funding has increased since its inception in 1998. By 2002, Congress gave the program $1 billion in funding, so in four years, the program’s budget saw a 2,400% increase. But, was the rationale for the large budget hike based on measurable outcomes and improvements?
The author says no, and he was one of the researchers contracted by the Department of Education to figure that out back in 1999 when he worked for Mathematica Policy Research. Their research showed that “the program didn’t affect student outcomes.”
Based on that conclusion, did the Department of Education and Congress reduce spending? No. When President George W. Bush proposed a reduction in funding by $400 million, advocates for the program and then-governor of California, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger pushed back and spending was left as it was, Dynarski noted.
A follow-up review in 2006 agreed with the 1999 study, and the Department of Education even agreed with these findings. An additional federal study “found no effects on academic outcomes” and their tutoring and academic support programs “did not improve academic outcomes.” In Washington, D.C., they spend $4,500 per student and the results were mixed: math skills improved, but there was no improvement in reading comprehension, despite the program’s emphasis on that subject matter. Overall, these programs cost about $600 per student per year.
The federal government rationalized its colossal spending by surveying students on how after school programs helped them, which “hardly is a scientific basis for measuring program effects.” And, parents view it as a type of childcare, although it is a very expensive one for taxpayers. But, there is already a childcare program in place, which is a $5 billion grant called the “Child Care and Development Block Grant” that states receive.