03/06/2012 12:52 pm ET Updated May 06, 2012

The House Takes a Step Backwards in the Effort to Expand Learning for All Students

Expand learning opportunities -- it's a critical call that we hear everywhere from the White House to state capitols to the local schoolhouse. Students need more time for learning both inside and outside of the traditional school day. Parents want their children to be able to take advantage of academically enriching opportunities, and they want kids to stay safe and out of trouble.

President Obama and Congress have each called for expanded learning time opportunities. Congress included language in the FY2012 appropriations allowing for more creative opportunities to expand the school day through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, including language about the importance of community-school partnerships in that effort. The new federal flexibility through waivers allows states and communities to think creatively about how to expand learning opportunities as they implement the 21st CCLC program. And, expanded learning opportunities are a recognized part of school improvement efforts.

Yet a House Committee has voted out a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that would do away with targeted funding for expanding learning time for students, taking a step backwards in the effort to increase learning outcomes for all children, especially those children most in need.

Last week, on Feb. 28, 2012, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed two bills reauthorizing portions of ESEA. The Student Success Act (H.R. 3989) and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act (H.R. 3990) both passed on party line votes of 23-16.

The Student Success Act reauthorizes and modifies the Title I, Part A program, along with a few related other programs. The Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act reauthorizes the Title II, Charter School, Magnet School, Parental Information and Resource Center program, and Impact Aid programs. In addition, this bill creates a new block grant that eliminates more than 70 existing elementary and secondary education programs, including the 21st CCLC program.

The proposed congressional legislation -- which would eliminate the 21st CCLC program -- is a step in the wrong direction. Currently, 21st CCLC is the only dedicated federal funding stream for critical before-school, after-school and summer-learning opportunities for students. At a time when studies show a widening achievement gap between rich and poor students, we cannot afford to lose the 21st CCLC program. Instead, we need even more resources to expand the learning day and year for students, particularly those who are struggling.

Representative George Miller (D-CA) offered an amendment that would have protected 21st CCLC as well as strengthened the program by embracing a comprehensive definition of expanded learning and requiring community partnerships.

The amendment was defeated 16-23.

We applaud Congressman Miller's leadership in fighting to maintain targeted funding for the 21st CCLC program and for strengthening the program, particularly recognizing the critical role of community partners in creating innovative, cost-effective solutions to expanding learning time.

We hope that as the ESEA reauthorization process moves forward there will be bipartisan support for a strong 21st CCLC and effective efforts to expand learning time.