We asked a number of expanded learning/afterschool leaders to offer their thoughts on emerging trends and significant challenges facing the field in 2017. As you will note, many leaders are paying attention to the importance of social-emotional learning. You will also note that a major challenge facing the field in 2017 is the rising cost of workers in the face of stagnant budgets and grants. Below are their responses.
EMERGING TRENDS IN EXPANDED LEARNING PROGRAMS
Ellen Gannett: Looking ahead to 2017, I see that it will be important for expanded learning to use a continuum approach that is cross sector and builds upon the early childhood field to develop a continuum of care.
MOST SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGE FACING THE FIELD OF EXPANDED LEARNING
Lucy Friedman: Just as in years past, the biggest challenge will be helping the public understand what it is we mean by expanded learning. After school is well understood, but is often viewed as a form of child care or recreation. And although supervised time is needed by working families, we can do so much more. Expanded learning, as we know it, seamlessly integrates learning done during the traditional school day with enrichments offered in expanded learning. Expanded learning is a way to bring equity of opportunity and we need this message to be loud and clear in 2017. All kids, from every zip code, should have access to the types of supports and experiences that they need in order to grow up to become confident, successful adults.
Ellen Gannett: Children and youth will ultimately benefit from a unified system, and given the funding challenges facing expanded learning in the year ahead, it makes sense financially to eliminate redundancies in funding and tap into federal and state sources that are earmarked for early learning.
Eric Gurna: The most significant challenge I see is not unique to expanded learning - it's the weakening or even dismantling of the federal Department of Education. That potentiality is a threat to dozens of federally funded programs, including 21st Century Community Learning Centers, that serve economically distressed communities. Here in California, our biggest challenge is our state funding situation. Costs have risen dramatically due to important public mandates like minimum wage increases, but the funding has been flat for over ten years. If our political leaders continue to count these programs, which serve close to a half million children across the state, as a low priority, the entire system is at risk of failing. I am hopeful that as a field we can stand in solidarity with other groups with similar goals (early childhood, child care, teachers unions, etc.) and amplify the voices of the communities we serve, so that we get what we need to thrive and survive as a field.
Bill Fennessy: The most significant challenge, without a doubt, will be having funding sufficient to continue just even compliant program delivery. With the increases in minimum wage and the accompanying “exempt employee” wage minimums there will clearly be only enough money to afford the required student supervision ratios. This means that Site Coordinator hours will probably have to be almost cut to just programming hours, that the next level of support for Site Coordinators and time needed for training and/or professional development will become unaffordable. The loss of these critically important supports for Expanded Learning programs and their staff will definitely have a severely negative impact on program quality and therefore effectiveness. This issue could in fact cause a collapse of Expanded Learning in California as we know it today.