Afterschool Focus: The Nita M. Lowey 21st CCLC Program, From Day One to Present Day

Those of us who work in afterschool know that the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) programs play a special role in our communities. Indeed, the program is unique because it is the only federal funding source dedicated exclusively to supporting local afterschool, before-school, and summer learning programs. Our funding is not the only reason the 21st CCLC program is unique. Our afterschool programs provide a place where students can learn and thrive, and they help connect students and their families, schools, and community. Traditionally, these activities have occurred at schools or community-based organizations. In recent months, we also have seen how 21st CCLC programs offer virtual support. In this issue of Illinois Quality Afterschool Quarterly, we are revisiting the history and purpose of the 21st CCLC program and showing how programs are supporting students, schools, and communities today.

How did the 21st CCLC program start?

The 21st CCLC program began as a broader community engagement program in 1994, offering programming for all community members. With the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, the program’s scope narrowed to focus on providing services to students attending high-poverty, low-performing schools to improve student outcomes. When Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, the 21st CCLC initiative was reauthorized, maintaining its focus on serving students from high-poverty, low-performing schools. In 2019, the program was renamed the Nita M. Lowey 21st CCLC program to honor United States Representative Nita M. Lowey of New York, a long-time champion of expanded learning programs, including 21st CCLC.1

Where do 21st CCLC funds come from?

Every year, the U.S. Congress sets the 21st CCLC program’s funding level in an appropriations bill that the president then signs into law. Each state receives funds based on its share of Title I funding for low-income students, and each state then administers those funds through grants to local schools and community-based organizations. Nationally, the program serves nearly 2 million youth, with state education agencies awarding grants. In Illinois, the program served nearly 59,000 students statewide during the 2018–19 school year.2

What are 21st CCLC programs expected to do?

The 21st CCLC program has the following objectives:

(1) provide opportunities for academic enrichment, including providing tutorial services to help students, particularly students who attend low-performing schools, to meet State and local student academic achievement standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and mathematics;
(2) offer students a broad array of additional services, programs, and activities, such as youth development activities, drug and violence prevention programs, counseling programs, art, music, and recreation programs, technology education programs, and character education programs, that are designed to reinforce and complement the regular academic program of participating students; and
(3) offer families of students served by community learning centers opportunities for literacy and related educational development.3

In addition to these federal objectives, the Illinois State Board of Education’s goals for 21st CCLC programs include improved academic outcomes, increased student attendance and graduation rates, increased social and emotional skills, community collaboration, support for students and families with the greatest needs, ongoing professional development for program staff, and collaboration with schools and community-based organizations to provide sustainable programs.4

What can 21st CCLC programs do today?

Although the 21st CCLC program goals remain the same, afterschool programs have shown their value by providing support as communities respond to an ongoing health crisis. Afterschool programs can

  • help students make academic gains by providing in-person and online tutoring and homework help, supporting students in mastering online learning, and collaborating with teachers to address learning loss by connecting students to expanded supports;
  • keep students safe, engaged, and learning when schools are closed and parents are working by offering in-person or virtual activities;
  • provide social and emotional supports by connecting youth with mentors trained to support positive youth development, connecting families to mental health support, offering workshops to educators on trauma-informed care, and engaging students in project-based or service learning activities that help them with social and emotional learning;
  • provide connections and support to families through increased outreach and check-ins, referrals to community supports, and the distribution of food, health, and unemployment resources;
  • if you offer in-person programming, ensure students have access to online learning by providing a place for students to focus on remote school requirements; and
  • support families by helping them overcome technology challenges, providing remote learning guidance, and offering resources to track and support students’ online school assignments and homework.5


Afterschool Alliance. (n.d.). Partnering with schools to reopen and meet students’ needs. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Afterschool Alliance. (2020). 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Every Student Succeeds Act. Part B. §. 4201. [20 U.S.C. 7171] Purpose; Definitions. (2015). Retrieved from  

Goodyear, L., Mansori, S., Cox, J., & Rodriguez, S. (2020). Illinois State Board of Education Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program: State level evaluation—2018–19. Waltham, MA: Education Development Center. Retrieved from


1 Afterschool Alliance, 2020.

2 Goodyear, Mansori, Cox, & Rodriguez, 2020.

3 Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015.

4 Goodyear, Mansori, Cox, & Rodriguez, 2020.

5 Afterschool Alliance, 2020.