Statement of Neal Denton, Senior Vice President and Chief Government Affairs Officer, YMCA of the USA on efforts to reauthorize Elementary and Secondary Education Act

(WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2015) – YMCA of the USA is the national resource office for the nation’s 2,700 YMCAs. As a leading nonprofit dedicated to strengthening community through youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility, the Y is committed to nurturing the potential of every child and teen. As one of the nation’s largest nonprofit providers of youth development programs, we urge Congress to consider the recommendations outlined below as efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) progress.

Each year, nine million children participate in a variety of Y programs and activities that address the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of youth. These programs range from early childhood education to tutoring, from afterschool mentoring to summer camps, from college preparation programs to recreational activities, and from leadership and civic engagement programs to swimming. Our youth development programming gives all youth access to learning new skills, developing character, making new friends, and building relationships with caring adults.

As a community-based youth serving organization, the Y partners in a deep and meaningful way, with countless schools across the country to help meet the academic and non-academic needs of children from preschool to high school graduation. These YMCA-school partnerships are based on a shared commitment to the academic success and overall well-being of children, and are built on trust, respect and the recognition that each partner has a significant role in improving child outcomes and strengthening communities.

As a trusted school partner, provider of high-quality early learning and out-of-school time programs, and leader in the advancement of physical activity standards both in and out of school, the Y urges Congress to consider the following recommendations as it seeks to reauthorize ESEA. These recommendations emphasize the role that community organizations play in providing enriching learning experiences to students; experiences that promote the health, wellness and social-emotional development of students. As research has documented, enrichment programs such as the arts; music; science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); and access to opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity have a significant impact on academic achievement.

1. Maintain the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) initiative as a separate and specific federal funding stream for school and community partnerships, to support students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, during the out-of-school hours.

This will ensure that students, particularly those in high-poverty schools, have access to high-quality before school, afterschool and summer learning programs in their communities. These programs also enable parents to take comfort knowing that their children are in safe environments, with engaging programming, while they are at work. At a time when 1 in 4 children are left alone and unsupervised every day after school, now is not the time to eliminate the dedicated 21st CCLC funding stream and redirect it to other purposes. Doing so would jeopardize the 1.6 million students served in before school, afterschool and summer programs currently supported by 21st CCLC funding.

2. Ensure that non-profit and community-based organizations, in partnership with schools and districts, are eligible applicants in state sub-grant competitions for 21st CCLC funds.

This will ensure that effective community organizations, who serve as critical partners and lead organizations under 21st CCLC, will continue to play an important role in supporting both schools and students. The programs provided by these organizations during the out-of-school time hours complement and enhance what children learn during the school day and year, and are often aligned with school district learning standards. They also help to close academic achievement gaps and boost in-school success, build and nurture 21st century skills, improve the health and wellness of students, and help to meet the needs of the whole child.

3. Incentivize school-community partnerships that coordinate resources to address the comprehensive needs of students and provide enriching learning and development opportunities during and outside of school hours.

When schools partner with community organizations, they are able to leverage resources and expertise to help meet the needs of the whole child. When these partners work together to integrate the delivery of services during and outside of school hours, they have the ability to collectively improve student learning, strengthen families, and help make communities healthier. References to school-community partnerships in ESEA should emphasis the need for each partner to share responsibility in the development of youth socially, emotionally, physically and academically as well as encourage data-sharing agreements and other strategies to enhance coordination and maximize impact.

4. Encourage greater coordination, at the state and local levels, with a broader array of stakeholders including community-based organizations.

ESEA can serve as a vehicle to encourage greater coordination, at the school, district and state levels, with a broader array of stakeholders including community-based organizations. Explicitly encouraging state and local education agencies to consult with community organizations will acknowledge the important role they play as partners in the education and healthy development of our nation’s youth. Community organizations also engage and collaborate with parents, community residents, and other local partners. As such, they can be integral in helping to: assess school and community needs, develop response plans and strategies, and mobilize community assets to address the academic and non-academic needs of children.

5. Ensure coordination and alignment between the Early Learning and K-12 Systems by making coordination more explicit.

ESEA presents an opportunity to better align and integrate the early learning and K-12 systems into a comprehensive continuum of learning. For example, references to coordination requirements and/or the transition from early childhood programs (including Head Start and state pre-kindergarten) to elementary school should explicitly include coordination with a variety of early learning programs and providers, including community-based organizations. ESEA can also incentivize local education agencies to coordinate by encouraging them to report on their efforts. In addition, ESEA can serve as a vehicle to ensure alignment between state early learning standards and state K-12 standards.

6. Maintain dedicated funding for the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) to ensure that physical activity and education opportunities remain available to children in their communities.

Too many youth today are sedentary throughout their day, meeting neither physical education nor national physical activity recommendations. Evidence suggests that quality physical education programs are effective and essential in ensuring the well-being of youth. Physical activity and fitness, for example, is associated with better classroom behavior, increased ability to focus in school, lower absenteeism and higher scholastic achievement. It is also associated with a healthier, longer life including lower risk of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses impacting our nation’s youth at epidemic levels. PEP is the only federal funding directed toward physical education and physical activity for our children. This program is important to communities because it enables nonprofit organizations to play a role in improving and expanding physical education programs that encourages students to be active and eat a nutritious diet. Without national support and incentives, more physical education programs will disappear from children’s lives. 

The Y looks forward to working with Congress as it prepares to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. We believe that these recommendations will support school and community efforts to improve student academic achievement and ensure that today’s youth become tomorrow’s leaders.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

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