For Everyone -- But Only Public Schools Need Apply
Twenty-First Century Community Learning Centers "are intended to serve all community residents," according to the U.S. Department of Education.
But the legislation mandates that Learning Centers be located at a public school site, effectively limiting the benefits of any child care programs only to parents who have students in those public schools. Although students in private schools may participate, they would need to travel to and from their private schools for before- and after-school programs run in a Learning Center, which significantly reduces their opportunity to participate.
"What is really needed is a public policy that allows parents choice and does not lock them into school district-only programs," commented Andre Ransom of the Colorado Child Care Association.
As well as limiting 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants to public schools, the legislation also requires that the grants go only to public schools in rural and inner-city environments. However, since there is no statutory definition of "rural" or "inner-city," applicants themselves must determine--and justify--whether they qualify. The instructions provided by the U.S. Department of Education recommend that grant applicants justify their claimed status by addressing specific conditions in their community that often appear in rural or inner-city situations, such as poverty, unemployment, and dropout rates.