U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta may have been one of Donald Trump’s earliest and staunchest supporters, but the Republican from Hazleton was quick to criticize one aspect of the president’s first budget: Elimination of federal funds that support an after school program Barletta has rigorously championed in Luzerne County.
The day after Trump unveiled a spending proposal that completely cut the $1 billion 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, Barletta joined Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat, in singing a letter to Trump urging him to reverse course.
The reason: 21st Century Community Learning grants have been a critical part of funding for the SHINE after school program in Luzerne County. Barletta and state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Nanticoke, teamed to bring the program — run for a decade in Carbon County — to local schools.
The two appeared at a media event to announce their success in December 2014, and since then together or separately they have regularly visited SHINE events to keep the spotlight on a program that expanded each year to serve more students in elementary and middle schools.
Short for School and Homes in Education, the program focuses on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) projects with students who come to schools that host the program four days a week. The program is a public-private partnership that quickly raised about $2 million from various sources, the biggest by far of which has been grant money from the 21st Century program. As of March last year, the federal program had provided $1.2 million to SHINE.
In the letter Barletta and Cicilline sent to Trump’s Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, the two representative “express deep concern” over elimination of the program, noting it was “reauthorized on a bipartisan basis in 2015 under the Every Student Succeeds Act, a federal education law that replaced the 2001 law known as No Child Left Behind.
“The program assists working families who rely more and more on after school and summer learning programs to effectively balance maintaining a job while raising children in a safe environment,” the letter to Mulvaney said. “These after school programs provide not only academic enrichment for students, but also teach critical life skills, and provide healthy meals and snacks.”
The letter notes the Afterschool Alliance estimated 1.16 million children would lose access to after school programs nationwide if the money were cut from the federal budget.
The letter quickly garnered national attention, with Education Week publishing an article online Thursday titled “Trump Ally to White House: Don’t Cut After-School Funding.”
The article notes that Mulvaney quickly fired back during a briefing with White House reporters, admitting he wasn’t familiar with SHINE — and, EdWeek suggests, may not have been familiar with the 21st Century grant program. But Mulvaney insisted after school programs don’t work.
“They’re supposed to be educational programs, right?,” Mulvaney said, according to the EdWeek article. “They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home get fed so they do better in school. … Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that.”
When they introduced the program in 2014, Yudichak cited data from the Carbon County version of SHINE as proof it works: “A 96 percent promotion rate, 92 percent increase in school attendance, 86 percent increase in family participation in a child’s education.”
In the letter to Mulvaney, Barletta and Cicilline warned that demand for after school programs has grown, and “many learning centers are being forced to reduce services, increase fees, or even shut their doors because they do not have the resources to meet the needs of the community.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish