Summertime for Republicans: Expanding Opportunities for Kids
Children play on the playground during a Summer Enrichment Program at the William H. Barton Intermediate School in Queensbury, N.Y.,Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. (Steve Jacobs/The Post-Star via AP)
Kids look forward to the summer. Republicans should too.
With control of Congress and 30 statehouses, Republicans have an opportunity to make significant progress towards advancing core Republican values and to do so through a cause they’ve largely overlooked: ensuring all kids have access to great summer opportunities.
Unequal summer experiences are a major source of the achievement and opportunity gaps between kids from lower income and higher income families, with lack of access to summer programs affecting everything from the nutrition and health of lower income youth to the ability of parents to juggle work and childcare when school is out. Fundamentally, expanding summer opportunities to all kids would advance core Republican values in education, such as empowering student and family choice, encouraging experimentation and innovation, and supporting community-based partnerships and volunteer service.
This is a new argument for Republicans. In Congress, Republicans in the House initially proposed to reauthorize No Child Left Behind by scrapping the billion dollars of funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers, the only dedicated federal funds for summer and afterschool programs. In statehouses, only 23 percent of sponsors of summer program-related bills, as tracked by the National Summer Learning Association, were Republicans.
Low rates of Republican sponsorship are, of course, just the reverse of high rates of Democratic sponsorship of bills expanding summer opportunities. However, Democratic backing for expanding summer opportunities generally takes the form of quiet support, with even their emerging focus on family issues centered mainly on expanding pre-K and improving college and career access.
On the campaign trail, none of the main Republican presidential hopefuls have talked about expanding summer educational opportunities. The closest mention came in Marco Rubio’s new book calling for an increase in child tax credits, though he admits it’s “not enough to pay for braces and summer camp.”
This is a missed opportunity for Republicans. We know how important the summer is to the unfinished work of ensuring all kids have great opportunities growing up. Over the summer, kids from lower income families on average lose two months of reading ability, while their better-off peers actually make gains. These effects accumulate over years and explain much of the achievement gap. And then there is the opportunity gap: by age 12, lower income youth have spent about 6,000 fewer hours engaged in out of school learning environments and activities than their wealthier peers, with about 1,000 of those hours occurring over the summer.
The consequences of unequal access and participation are numerous and significant, as many others have pointed out. Our failure to allow more kids to experience summer programs is all the more disappointing when there are many summer programs dramatically improving student academic performance and delivering high quality, unique programming; many school districts are also evaluating and improving their offerings.
These are powerful reasons to expand summer educational opportunities. For Republicans, there is another compelling, if rarely stated, reason: taking the lead here would be a promising way to advance their core values in education.
Expanding summer opportunities is a critical part of meeting the Republican goal of ensuring all families can make great choices for their kids. Families want kids to do very different things, and over the summer, some get to do so—going camping, competing in sports, conducting science experiments, getting ahead in school, or spending time with relatives. But far too many don’t. Empowering all families with these choices over the summer would avoid some of the fraught battles over the school year while making good on Republicans’ belief in greater choices in education.
For Republicans concerned with encouraging innovation in education, expanding summer programs is a good way to do so. Citizen Schools began as a summer program, as did School of One, a celebrated personalized math program. Its follow-on organization continues that approach: “We incubate early-stage innovations in summer- and after-school environments where we can rapidly iterate, troubleshoot, and closely measure impact.” We could learn even more from summer programs if all kids had the means to access them, if funding were stable enough to encourage promising programs to grow, and if there were better community-wide systems to share successes across summer programs and with schools.
Expanding summer opportunities to all kids would draw on and galvanize the local organizations and volunteer service dear to Republicans and crucial to civic life. For advocates of greater national service, expanding summer opportunities is a promising place in which to ground calls for more broad-based service. It is a call that might particularly appeal to young adults, asking them to match their freedom and abilities to the needs of younger kids (and their once younger selves). Already, new volunteer and service programs are taking up this work. Breakthrough Collaborative and Generation Teach are expanding summer program opportunities through the help of college and high school students, and in the process increasing and diversifying pipelines into teaching.
Meeting the challenge of expanding summer opportunities to all kids might unexpectedly and particularly appeal to Republicans. But more than that, it is work that we all need to be committed to: we have to care about and count every kid’s opportunities, and there can be no break from that.