Publicly Funded OST Programs Deserve a Fair Shot

Guest blog post by Kandice Head, Communications Specialist, Forum for Youth Investment

My mother’s mission upon learning of her pregnancy with my twin brother and me was to provide us with everything she never had. She wanted to open the world beyond Chicago and expose us to as many experiences and opportunities as possible. Growing up, we were busy kids.

I always had something to look forward to in the Out-of-School Time (OST) space after school, on the weekends and during the summers. Whether it was orchestra lessons, basketball practice or Girl Scouts — there was always something. For myself and many people across the country, early exposure to arts and sports were constant molding moments that played a critical role in development. Music lessons taught me the value of discipline and summer enrichment programs exposed me to new languages and career paths, helping me become the person I am today.

Like my mother, every parent wants to provide the very best for their children and expose them to opportunities where they are challenged, nurtured and safe. However, not all parents have the resources to pay for enriching (OST) activities for their children. Therefore, programs serving low-income youth often rely on public funding to support programming and operations and policymakers often question if they’re a good use of public resources.

In response, the RAND Corporation issued a report, “The Value of Out-of-School Time Programs.” The report, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, takes an in-depth look at the case for publicly-funded OST programs and expounds on the effectiveness of the programs. Lastly, it provides recommendations to policymakers, providers and funders.

Learning does not and cannot end when the school bell rings, and students deserve spaces to explore and learn beyond the classroom regardless of their zip code or socioeconomic status.

The study also reveals that 59 percent of children from low-income families participate in sports, compared with 84 percent of children from wealthier families — those with annual incomes of $75,000 or more.

From improved student achievement to increased positive social behavior, the value and impact of OST programs is immeasurable. However, when measured and evaluated, all possible benefits and outcomes of these programs must be considered. Although academic outcomes are studied more frequently, other numerous benefits of OST programs are underreported or unassessed.

For example, the report noted that OST programs also benefit parents that don’t have flexible work schedules and cannot afford childcare — a largely unmeasured advantage that can positively impact parental employment. Additionally, publicly-funded programs provide experiences to students whose parents don’t have the financial resources for them. Hence, highly-incentivized and well-funded public programs can help bridge the opportunity gap by “building human and social capital.”

While academic outcomes are often evaluated for these programs, other critical aspects of youth development such as those mentioned above are largely unmeasured. It is imperative that policymakers and funders assess all possible benefits of OST programs before making funding decisions.

The highest-income families spend almost seven times more on enrichment activities for their children, and this spending gap creates an opportunity gap.

“One of the most challenging aspects of OST programs’ assessment and quality has to do with availability of funding.” said McCombs.

McCombs concluded by explaining that Out-of-School Time programs provide measurable benefits directly related to program content for youth and families and program quality influences those outcomes. She recommends that policymakers and funders incentivize high-quality programs, consider all possible benefits these programs provide and better assess the value and impact of OST programs.

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