By Kristin Knorr | Moorhead, Minn.

High-quality after-school programs inspire students to learn, keep kids safe, and support working parents. In North Dakota state, 75% of children ages 6-13 have all parents in the labor force (KIDS COUNT Data Center, 2007), ranking North Dakota among the top four states with the highest percentage of families with all parents in the workforce.

October is the 20th annual Lights on Afterschool, the only nationwide event celebrating after-school programs and their important role in the lives of children, families and communities. Gov. Doug Burgum proclaimed Oct. 24 as Lights on Afterschool Day in North Dakota. In the proclamation, Burgum declared that, “the citizens of North Dakota stand firmly committed to quality afterschool programs and opportunities because they provide safe, challenging and engaging learning experiences for children, support working families, build stronger communities and engage families, schools and community partners in advancing the welfare of our children.”

North Dakota parents strongly support afterschool, with 77% of working parents saying afterschool helps them keep their jobs and 86% supporting public funding for afterschool (Afterschool Alliance, 2019).

The need for programs far exceeds the funding available. Among North Dakota's K-12 students, 19,865 are enrolled in afterschool, but 26,857 are waiting for an available program. 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21CCLC) are the only federally funded before-school, afterschool and summer learning programs. In North Dakota, 4,351 students were served through 21CCLC programs from August through October 2019 (North Dakota Department of Public Instruction).

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We, including our North Dakota policymakers and our representation in Congress, must do all we can to ensure every child and family who needs afterschool is able to participate. Afterschool is a critical support for our children, families, and employers. As parents and leaders, our most important job is ensuring that we give our children – all children – the opportunity to achieve their full potential and build a successful future. After-school programs are one of the best ways to do that.

Children benefit from these programs. Parents rely on them. And communities across North Dakota need more of them. to find out how you can be involved.

Knorr is the ND Afterschool Network lead, based in Fargo. The ND Afterschool Network supports and advocates for high-quality out-of-school time programming for students PreK-12 across the state..