Lunde: Keep funding after-school programs that open opportunities for youth

By Jeff Lunde 

Guest columnist

More than 10 million children nationwide are currently attending and benefiting from after-school programs. While this number seems high, 10 million is just scratching the surface of the number of kids who could be making positive strides in their studies, physical activities and general well-being during their afternoons.

Because of their participation in these programs, children are attending school more regularly, improving their grades and test scores in core subjects like math and reading, learning the importance of healthy eating and physical activity, and ultimately, gaining confidence in themselves.

I am a strong supporter of after-school programs in our city and all of America’s communities. As an active member of the National League of City’s Afterschool Policy Action Network, I know the constructive impact these programs have. After-school programs are doing remarkable things for children and working families, and their protection is essential. That is why I am speaking alongside government officials and leaders from education and business this week at the National After-School Summit of 2015, hosted at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute. The Summit is focused on why investing money and time into after-school programs is critical to helping our students succeed in school and in life.

In Brooklyn Park, we have seen these results first-hand. Since we began ramping up after-school programs in our city, juvenile crime has dropped steadily. In fact, every year since 2008, crimes involving youth have fallen. We started with 1,158 serious and misdemeanor offenses in 2008, and in 2013 we saw an astonishing drop to just 634 youth-related incidents.

The activities youth in Brooklyn Park participate in are endless, and they include trips to nearby colleges and universities to learn about admission procedures and requirements, to physical activities like basketball, karate and rock climbing. But before they get to participate in these exciting happenings, the children and teens understand that their homework and studies come first.

In Brooklyn Park, a large number of families are surviving by working two or more jobs, and parents do not have the time to supervise their children’s studies, nor do they have the money to enroll their kids in expensive extracurricular activities. With both parents struggling to make ends meet, the lack of positive adult-supervised activities can lead to an increase in drug use, high school dropout rates and gang involvement and an inability to enter college or be prepared for the workforce. Government funded after-school programs are a cost-effective and extremely impactful way to effectively address these problems.

With the positive impact after-school programs have on our communities and country, it puzzles me why the funding for these programs is constantly on the chopping block at every level of government. As I write this piece, the U.S. Congress is debating the elimination of $1 billion for the after-school programs so many families rely on. Congress, and all of our nation’s leaders, should not look at these programs as another cost, and instead see them as an investment in our children’s future.

The evidence is there. After-school programs have proven themselves to be a way for kids to have opportunities that they may have never dreamed of. Because of the significant and positive effects these quality programs have on kids, families and communities, we should be looking to expand funding for after-school programming, not eliminating it. Please join me in the fight to keeping these vital programs alive and thriving.

Lunde is the mayor of Brooklyn Park.