Last week, FFYF submitted feedback on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) draft non-regulatory guidance for the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC). 21st CCLC grants create community learning centers, which support a broad array of services for students during non-school hours or extended learning during regular school hours. The program supports academic enrichment, particularly for children who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. 21st CCLC is the only federal funding stream dedicated specifically to afterschool and summer activities. The program was funded at $1.34 billion in FY 2022. In the 2020-2021 school year, the program served over 1 million people across all 50 states.
FFYF’s feedback on the guidance emphasizes the importance of explicitly including language on early care and education (ECE) programs, and encouraging investments in ECE so that states understand how to use 21st CCLC to support children starting at birth. Overwhelming evidence and research demonstrate that the first five years of life are critical in children’s physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development. Quality ECE programs play a pivotal role in setting children up to succeed in the K-12 system and beyond. To support a robust continuum of care and education, investments in school-age children need to be paired with investments in ECE.
FFYF commends the Department on explicitly outlining how State educational agencies can collaborate with Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) administrators to better serve the needs of children and families in Question C-6. Both 21st CCLC and CCDF support children during out-of-school time, and coordination between these federal programs can ensure states can maximize supports and services to meet more children’s needs. The Department recommends aligning licensing and monitoring requirements, professional development, and quality enhancements across programs. Given that 64% of children served by CCDF are under the age of six, FFYF suggests that the language further clarifies the ability to serve children before kindergarten.
This is the first time in 20 years that ED has updated the non-regulatory guidance and we appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback. Please find our full comments below.