Data digest: 21C program operations in 2018-19 as related to funding duration

For each year of the past decade, Vermont Afterschool has been contracted with the Vermont Agency of Education (VTAOE) to summarize and report on evaluation data for the state’s federally-funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21C). The purpose of these reports is to ensure that 21C programs serve the neediest students, support high-quality programming, thrive under effective leadership, and are financially sustainable. 

Afterschool and summer learning programs in Vermont that receiving funding through the 21C initiative are expected to provide programming that will lead to positive student outcomes. We know from research (such as that which is summarized in this review by the Harvard Family Research Project) that students who attend quality programs with high intensity (as measured in days per week, hours per week, and weeks per year) are more likely to experience positive gains than those who attend with low intensity. These gains include higher academic achievement, lower displays of problematic and risky behavior, greater community engagement, and better social-emotional gains. In order for students to have opportunities to attend such programming with high intensity, these programs must operate for sufficient amounts of days per week, hours per week and weeks per school year. Based on this knowledge, we annually collect and summarize these so-called “dosage numbers” for 21C program sites so that we can best understand the extent to which programs are providing sufficient opportunities for students to reap the benefits of high quality programming.

The measures on the 21C statewide evaluation, which were last revised in 2014-15 establish that ideally, 21C sites should provide programming for five days per week and for at least 14 total hours during the week. Programs meeting those targets would be able to serve students every weekday from about 2:30 or 3:00 until about 4:30 or 5:30 every school day. Additionally, programs that operate for at least 32 hours per week would provide programming to students for the vast majority of the ~37 week school year. While it’s true that not all students enrolled in programming would participate for all of the available hours, having these hours available at least provides them with opportunities to benefit from the desirable outcomes of intense and consistent attendance. In 2018-19, 82% of 21C sites operated at least 32 weeks; 74% of sites operated at least 5 days per week; and 28% of sites operated for at least 14 hours per week.

Programs require a lot of support and resources to ensure that they can provide enough programming for students to participate with high levels of intensity. They need to have strong leadership, buy-in from their school districts or supervisory unions, sufficient funding, and reliable quality staff. We believe that sustained long-term funding from the federal 21C initiative can help ensure that afterschool programs have the support and resources to sustain these levels of operation. Why do we believe that? Well, the numbers speak for themselves. The chart below illustrates the gap between 21C sites whose grantees have been funded for at least ten years and grantees that have been funded for less than ten years and the percentages of each that achieved each of the dosage-related measures. 

Among 21C sites whose projects were funded for at least ten years, 95% provided at least 32 weeks of programming in 2018-19. This stands in contrast to the 50% of program sites whose projects were funded for less than ten years and accomplished the same. Likewise, 88% of the sites belonging to long-term funded projects operated for five days per week compared to 36% of sites whose projects were funded for less than ten years and did so. And while the fewest percentages of program sites overall were able to achieve the goal of providing at least 14 hours per week of programming, there is also a gap here between the sites belonging to the projects funded for at least ten years and those belonging to projects that were funded for less than ten years for this measure: 36% vs. 7%, respectively. 

There were a total of 26 projects that received funding from the 21C initiative in 2018-19. They comprised a total of 102 individual program sites. Nine of those projects had been funded for less than ten years and comprised 28 total sites. The remaining 17 projects had been funded for ten or more years and comprised 74 total sites. It is worth noting that there have been some “expansion sites” that have been newly funded over the years. That is, some projects which have been in operation for more than ten years have individual sites that have been funded for less than ten years.

While it is important that 21C projects work to procure diverse funding sources and ensure their sustainability should they ever lose their 21C funding, it is also true that sustained support from the 21C grant can remove some of the time burdens of obtaining funding and allow leaders to focus their resources on how to achieve other improvements, such as expanding program operations to help ensure the best possible outcomes for students. This reasoning works the other way, too: projects that are able to invest in high levels of weekly program operations are also those that are able to put together impressive grant applications on a regular basis. We hypothesize that both of these phenomena are responsible for the gap in operations that we see from 2018-19. Future research could further explain what is going on here, but nonetheless we cannot deny the fact that programs that have been in operation for longer were better able to provide sufficient programming for students last year.

The full 21C evaluation report for 2018-19 will be released soon and it will show the outcomes for all the results from the statewide evaluation for each year going back to 2014-15. Stay tuned!

The views expressed here are those of Vermont Afterschool and do not necessarily reflect those of the Vermont Agency of Education.