Use pot revenue to expand afterschool programs

New sector could fill critical funding gap

IN A RECENT report on the importance of afterschool programs, the Legislature’s Afterschool and Out-Of-School Time Coordinating Council, chaired by Sen. Brendan Crighton and Rep. Jennifer Benson, reached a familiar conclusion, but offers a promising new solution.

For years, chronic underfunding has left too many Massachusetts children without access to the invaluable afterschool and summer learning programs that help them reach their full potential. Available funding streams have remained elusive and inadequate. We believe new state and local revenue from the sale of recreational marijuana would go a long way to properly fund these programs that are proven to increase positive outcomes for kids in school, college, and career.

Our state mandates that a proportion of cannabis revenue be spent on youth education and prevention programs. The research is clear: Students who participate in afterschool programs get higher grades, graduate at higher levels, have fewer behavior issues, and have lower rates of drug abuse than their peers – exactly the outcomes that marijuana revenue should be used to support.

Our lawmakers have been steadfast in their support for afterschool programming, but the Commonwealth has relied too heavily on federal funding. With $60 million in expected new revenue from recreational marijuana sales, our report recommends making afterschool and out-of-school programs a priority for a portion of these funds. Alaska and California have already linked revenue from legalized marijuana sales to afterschool and out-of-school programming; Massachusetts is well positioned to follow suit.

Further, most aspects of education policy — early education, K-12, and beyond — are handled in economic and planning terms that acknowledge their interconnectedness, particularly around achievement gaps. Unfortunately, afterschool remains in its own silo, viewed as an added extra instead of a fundamental component of our education system that could be instrumental in closing achievement gaps. Like all the other education elements, afterschool learning benefits the same kids. Yet for every one child attending an afterschool program in Massachusetts, two are waiting to get in.

While our state consistently leads the country in supporting the well-being and educational success of its children, our report finds nearly 214,000 children are unsupervised during afterschool hours. In total, 360,000 students (44 percent of all students in the Commonwealth) — would sign up for an afterschool program if they had the option — far more than the 200,000 children currently enrolled.

Young people already spend nearly 80 percent of their time out of school, and many parents are still at work during these hours. For these parents, afterschool is a lifeline that helps them work without worry and balance their schedule.

Our report recommends tangible actions we can take, today, to help level the playing field for so many children who are currently left behind — not for lack of ability but for lack of income and opportunity:

  • The Commonwealth should address the state’s growing wait list as well as program gaps in rural areas by leveraging existing federal dollars while directing recreational cannabis revenue to support afterschool programs.
  • Afterschool and summer programs struggle to provide their staff adequate pay, but quality programs cannot exist without qualified teachers. Our report offers a number of recommendations to maintain a high-quality workforce, including boosting teacher salaries through an increase in the reimbursement rate for state-funded afterschool programs. The Commonwealth should also invest in scholarship and loan forgiveness programs as well as statewide professional development for staff.
  • Our recommended strategies are aimed at how to best support communities in creating an environment that embraces the positive impact afterschool programs have on children. The state must galvanize public-private partnerships and create new tax incentive for businesses that invest in programs. Through these strategies, partnerships could develop best practices in increasing quality and access to programs while creating mechanisms for data sharing among stakeholders that improve children’s outcomes.
  • To improve coordination among agencies and programs, the Commonwealth should create a statewide data and information technology system for afterschool and summer learning and align professional development standards across departments. Additionally, our report suggests the creation of an Afterschool Caucus in the Legislature and a new position in the Executive Office of Education to coordinate out-of-school time learning.
Meet the Author
If our education system is going to provide the quality education our children need for a productive adulthood and lifelong learning, then the support of afterschool programs is not just a smart idea, but a requirement. It’s time we, as a Commonwealth, start recognizing and funding afterschool learning as a fundamental component of our education system, not a privilege.

Ardith Wieworka is the CEO of the Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership, a statewide nonprofit organization that seeks to increase access to afterschool programs to better prepare children and youth for life beyond school. She was a member of the Legislature’s Afterschool and Out-Of-School Time Coordinating Council.