34,704 Rhode Island students currently participate in out-of-school learning programs; another 37,471 want to but can’t due to a severe lack of funding.
That’s one of the major findings from a new report commissioned by United Way’s Rhode Island Afterschool Network (RIAN) titled, The State of Out-of-School Time Learning Programs in Rhode Island. The results, which have been reported on by local media, including ABC 6, are in line with a growing body of research on the subject.
The report’s October 24th release coincided with RIAN’s 17th Annual Lights On Afterschool Summit — which was attended by more than 300 local education professionals, state leaders, and advocates. While event speakers touted the benefits of out-of-school learning programs, including higher graduation rates and lower chronic absenteeism, they also brought attention to barriers, such as the lack of funding.
Despite the overwhelming demand and well-documented benefits, underfunding continues to hinder access and minimize reach. This reality is visible in the 2018 out-of-school funding request made by the state’s schools and local community organizations; of the $7.3 million requested, only $2.7 million was approved – a decision resulting in tens of thousands of Rhode Island children being left behind.
“[While] these programs alone can’t improve low test scores, they’re vital to helping our youth do their best, and we must make them available to every child,” said Larry Warner, UWRI’s Director of Grants and Strategic Initiatives. “That’s why we call for a dedicated funding stream for Rhode Island out-of-school education; the data clearly shows that these programs have a positive impact.”
Among the many benefits, having properly funded programs would result in more young Rhode Islanders graduating from high school. Of the hundreds of students who’ve participated in four local programs, including College Visions, New Urban Arts, Riverzedge Arts, and Young Voices, 96 percent have gone on to complete high school.
Imagine the effect such a high statewide graduation rate would have on Rhode Island’s future. More importantly, consider the impact it would have on the lives of our children; that alone is reason enough to advocate for a dedicated funding stream and support RIAN’s efforts to ensure that every Rhode Island child has access to quality out-of-school learning programs.