SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah senator is hoping to improve academic achievement for some of Utah's most at-risk students by increasing funding for after-school programs.
Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said it's a "comprehensive" way of teaching and meeting the needs of children, many of whom spend the hours after school by themselves while their parents work.
"I'm running this bill because it is an issue in my district," she said. "Those children are having issues of graduation rates and assessment scores."
SB125 would provide an ongoing appropriation of $500,000 from the education fund to create after-school programs in areas where school attendance, graduation rates or student test scores are suffering. The bill also directs education leaders to establish standards that characterize high-quality after-school programs.
The Senate Education Committee unanimously endorsed the proposal Wednesday.
Administrators at the Utah State Office of Education, which would administer the grant money with the Utah Department of Workforce Services, estimate the funding would be enough to create four or five new after-school programs, each serving an average of 200 students per year.
It's a small slice of the overall pie considering some 99,000 Utah children are left alone during after-school hours, according to Kelly Riding, executive director of the Utah Afterschool Network. But the impact is no less meaningful.
"More than a decade of research confirms that high-quality after-school programs inspire and motivate children to learn, support children's social and emotional growth, and help raise their academic achievement," Riding said. "Investment in high-quality programs is needed now more than ever to keep kids safe, support their overall well-being as they move through school."
Riding said more than 57,000 Utah children — about 9 percent of K-12 students — currently participate in after-school programs. But parents indicate that more than 257,000 children — 47 percent of students — would participate if programs were available, she said.
Some after-school programs have helped raise math and reading scores, lower the number of student absences, improve classroom behavior and keep students out of trouble after regular school ends, Riding said. And those who regularly attend a program that operates 15 hours per week gain the equivalent of 70 extra school days per year.
Escamilla said it would also help families where both parents work after their children get out of school.
"To me, it's a comprehensive way of looking at a child's life because our schools really stop taking care of kids at 3 p.m. That's just the nature of how our public education system is," she said. "Schools that have quality after-school programs have high-quality scores. Test scores look better because those children are being taken care of when they (don't) have a chance to be home with mom and dad."
The bill will next be considered by the full Senate.