By Senator Sal DiDomenico
President Donald Trump recently released his 2018 budget, outlining billions of dollars in cuts to vital governmental agencies and services. Almost laughably, the Administration has titled its budget “America First,” despite zeroing out and reducing funding for programs that help millions of Americans. Included in those cuts was the complete elimination of a large federal afterschool program that provides academic support and meals to students in disadvantaged communities across the country.
When asked in a press conference about the impact on students, White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney stated there is “no demonstrable evidence” that these afterschool programs help kids or improve academic outcomes. According to the White House, these programs simply exist to feed kids who don’t get fed at home, but there’s no evidence that they are “actually helping results, helping kids do better at school.” Let me be clear: Mr. Mulvaney’s comments are completely false.
Last year, I was chosen by Senate President Stan Rosenberg to lead a Senate initiative, known as Kids First, to seek out input on best-in-the nation practices and to identify innovative strategies for investing in Massachusetts’ children. Over the past year, we have been taking a deep dive into a wide variety of policy areas that relate to supporting children and have heard from countless advocates and stakeholders on this matter. From our many discussions and research, I can say with total confidence that these afterschool programs are effective, there is plenty of evidence to support this, and the White House is sadly misinformed about the value these programs provide.
Children who attend high quality afterschool and out-of-school-time programs can reap a number of positive academic, social/emotional, preventative, and health and wellness benefits. Contrary to Mr. Mulvaney’s representation, out-of-school-time programs do not solely exist to feed children, although that is a critical function. They also provide specific academic programs in math and English to help with homework and offer other important programs such as physical fitness and art.
A Harvard Family Research Project study found that decades of research points to the fact that participation in afterschool programs is associated with improved academic success including greater school attendance, lower drop-out rates, and better in-school performance. Furthermore, researchers have found that afterschool program participation decreases behavioral problems, help students avoid drug and alcohol use, and reduces delinquency and violent behavior. Afterschool and out-of-school-time programs have helped to improve academic outcomes for countless students in Massachusetts and throughout the nation, and the White House’s claim to the contrary is not an alternative fact— it is an outright lie.
And yet, one of the most frustrating things to come out of Mulvaney’s claims is the implication that feeding children does not help them do better in school. Without question, hunger does impact the learning process for students. Common sense tells us children who show up to school hungry will not be ready to learn, and there are many studies that show children experiencing hunger have lower math scores, are more likely to repeat a grade, and display more behavioral and emotional problems.
To be clear, childhood hunger is not a minor issue in the United States. According to the latest figures from the United States Department of Agriculture, several million households in the United States with children are food insecure, meaning these households were at times throughout the year unable to provide adequate and nutritious food for their children. On a local level, almost 10% of households in Massachusetts are food insecure, and that number almost doubles to 19.2% for households with children. In my own work on the Kids First Initiative, I received overwhelming feedback from advocates and stakeholders that food insecurity and the negative effects of children coming to school hungry is a major issue here in the Commonwealth.
We cannot ignore the fact that, for some children, the only time they eat is in school or during out-of-school-time programs. By ending these programs, the White House is also eliminating an important source of nutrition for kids across the country.
When drafting this “America First” budget, it is clear that President Trump and Mick Mulvaney didn’t give much thought to putting America’s kids first. Apparently, the White House is perfectly comfortable balancing their budget on the backs of our children.