Economy, Education, Equity

Afterschool programs are an investment in Michigan’s future

This op-ed was originally published in The Detroit News.

There’s a long overdue conversation happening in Michigan right now about how to revive our state’s education system to better enable our children to compete for and create the jobs of the future. That conversation must include how we provide access to high-quality afterschool programs to all children.

Afterschool programs help kids retain and deepen their knowledge, explore interests and expand their view of what’s possible for their future. The research makes it plain. Kids that participate in high-quality afterschool programming do better overall. Afterschool programs yield improved school attendance and performance, stronger social engagement and connections, and better mental and physical health. They also prepare young people for the job market, yielding higher employability and wages.

Most of us can think back to the activities we engaged in outside of school hours that influenced our station in life today, be it sports, the arts or extra support needed to grasp our schoolwork and help us keep up with peers. These are experiences that shape a child’s trajectory.

That’s why parents and caregivers make significant sacrifices to ensure their children can participate in afterschool activities. But not all of us have this ability. By sixth grade, children of middle-class families will have spent over 4,000 more hours engaged in afterschool and summer programs than their low-income peers.

Today we have a pay-to-play system. An increasingly hefty price tag accompanies being on a sports team, exploring the arts, receiving tutoring help and the like. As a result, we’re limiting the experiences and abilities of far too many children. For every Michigan child participating in an afterschool program, three more would join if given the opportunity.

Across the state, approximately 375,000 kids are alone and unsupervised between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. while parents are still at work. Afterschool programming gives parents peace of mind, providing structured developmental activities under the careful eye of loving adults. Without the safety and stability of the programs, parents are more likely to miss work, impacting businesses and the economy on the whole.

This week at the Mackinac Policy Conference, The Skillman Foundation presented a session about the benefits of afterschool programming. Today, I have the opportunity to encourage state leaders to develop a high-quality student-centered education system alongside my fellow co-chairs of Launch Michigan, a diverse partnership of education, business, labor, philanthropy, civic leaders and parents. Both a strong pre-K-12 education system and high-quality afterschool system are imperative to preparing our children to lead independent and rewarding lives.

Communities across Michigan must find creative solutions to find stable, reliable funding for afterschool programs. Investing in afterschool programs will support a brighter future for our children and our state.

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