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14 Million Students Come Home to Empty House

Some 14 million school-age children, 25 percent of the total, come home to an empty house or are on their own after school, including 40,000 kindergarteners, according to figures compiled by the Afterschool Alliance, a broad, nonprofit coalition or organizations and policy makers.

The parents of more than 28 million school-age children work outside the home, but only 6.5 million K-12 children participate in afterschool programs, making the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex.

The principal federal support for afterschool programs, whether sponsored by schools or through community efforts, is the 21st Cenury Community Learning Centers which provides grants to public or private nonprofit organizations. Under the Bush Administration's proposed FY08 budget, funds for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers would be cut by nearly $300 million, from the current $1.081 billion to $800 million.

Many studies have shown the benefits of afterschool programs for school-age children. Teens who do not participate in afterschool programs are nearly three times more likely to skip classes than teens who do participate. They are also three times more likely to use marijuana or others drugs, and are more likely to drink, smoke, and engage in sexual activity. Afterschool studies show that those programs improve children's personal, social and academic skills, as well as their self-esteem.

Children in rural communities often face social isolation, a lack of positive role models and scarce opportunities, but in many communities afterschool programs are helping change that picture. Working on the strengths of their communities, afterschool programs can give children in rural areas access to safe, inspiring activities that allow them to flourish. By collaborating with local partners and businesses and by motivating families and residents to participate in establishing new afterschool programs or improving existing ones, rural children can have a better, safer quality of life.

Studies also show that children who take part in afterschool programs attend school more regularly and have higher aspirations for finishing school and going to college. They are half as likely to drop out of high school, and 30 percent less likely to participate in criminal activities, saving dollars by an estimated $2.50 in crime-related costs for every dollar invested in afterschool programs.

Another finding: parents of children in these programs are less likely to miss work due to a lack of afterschool care.