School programs for AZ poor on the chopping block

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A robotics class could be on the chopping block if President Trump's budget is passed. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) A robotics class could be on the chopping block if President Trump's budget is passed. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The money to pay for robotics  from the extra teacher pay to the $400 robotic kits  comes from the federal 21st Century Community Centers Learning Program. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The money to pay for robotics from the extra teacher pay to the $400 robotic kits comes from the federal 21st Century Community Centers Learning Program. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

It’s early, nearly an hour before the start of the official school day at Acacia Elementary in Glendale.

Roughly a dozen students fill the classroom. 

In a different context, you might think this was a children’s party. 

It’s loud, chaotic and frenetic. 

But this is no celebration. This is just another day in the robotics class. 

“The biggest skill they're learning is how to be a critical thinker,” says Jordan Blair, the instructor. 

The children are a mix, from special education to gifted students. 

But all of them share this — they attend one of the poorest school districts in the Valley. 

And because this is a low-income district, robotics could be shutting down. 

“It's sad. It is the state of education right now,” said Christine Hollingsworth, principal of Acacia. 

Hollingsworth says the money to pay for robotics — from the extra teacher pay to the $400 robotic kits — comes from the federal 21st Century Community Centers Learning Program

This is a $1.2 billion block grant aimed at boosting student achievement in the poorest communities in America. 

President Donald Trump is proposing to cut the program to help increase military spending by $54 billion. 

In his budget blueprint, which was released last month, the White House said the 21st Century program, “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.” 

[READ MORE: Trump budget plan shows how he would reshape nation]

Principal Hollingsworth tells a different story. 

“I challenge anyone to come into our schools and see what we’re doing with this grant and see what our children are doing and see how we’re inspiring children to be excited about education,” Hollingsworth said. 

Take the robotics class for example. It's part math, science and engineering. 

It’s improving academic performance, according to the principal. 

And it’s not only robotics. The 21st Century Grant also pays for after-school math and reading programs at Acacia. 

According to Hollingsworth, 76 percent of the students who participate in the classes are getting A's and B’s on their report cards. 

However, some might say this is anecdotal evidence — an exception to the rule. 

“They aren't showing academic gains,” said Elizabeth Dreckman, president of the Arizona School Choice Trust

Dreckman, a critic of the block grant program, points out that studies show 21st Century is not improving grades. 

In fact, a 2005 study by the U.S. Department of Education, which oversees the block grant, showed there was no evidence of improved achievement. 

But a look at more recent evaluations does show improvement even though the program falls short of their academic goals. 

Regardless, Dreckman says there are better ways to pay for after-school programs and says Trump’s proposed budget heads in the right direction. 

As President Trump considers cutting the 21st Century program, he is also proposing to increase funding for school vouchers by $1.4 billion. 

Vouchers are controversial because they allow parents to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools. 

“Allowing the money to follow the child where they can take it in their backpack to go to the school that best fits their needs is not only good for the kids, but it's showing results in all the states that have done it,” Dreckman said. 

Research on vouchers is also a mixed bag. 

Various studies aside, roughly 1.6 million school kids across the country are served by 21st Century funds, including 57,000 in Arizona. 

All of them will be affected, should Trump get his budget request. 

Grant supporters worry that Trump’s budget cuts will end up hurting some of the nation’s poorest school children, like the ones attending Acacia.

“When I know something works and I know it works for kids then I’m going to fight for it," Hollingsworth said. 

?Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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Dennis WlechVeteran political reporter Dennis Welch is a well-respected political expert in Arizona.

Dennis Welch
Political Editor

Before making the move to television, Welch wrote and edited for the Arizona Guardian, a highly influential online news site dedicated to Arizona politics and government where he served as owner and editor. During his Guardian days, Welch was a frequent guest on “Politics Unplugged” and has been a regular fixture on the state political landscape since 2005 appearing on numerous radio and television talk shows. “I am thrilled to start working with such a talented and dedicated staff of journalists,” said Welch. “This is a great opportunity to broaden the reach of my political coverage and tell stories that affect Arizona voters and their families.” With more than 13 years of experience under his belt, Welch’s arrival only strengthens 3TV’s commitment to providing first-rate political and government coverage across all platforms. When not covering politics, Welch is an avid runner and fronts a punk rock band that plays frequently throughout the Southwest and California. Welch is a well-respected political expert in Arizona and his addition means 3TV will provide a stronger, more robust political presence in Arizona. He joins 3TV from the Arizona Guardian, a highly influential online news site dedicated to Arizona politics and government where he served as owner and editor. During his Guardian days, Welch was a frequent guest on “Politics Unplugged” and has been a regular fixture on the state political landscape since 2005 appearing on numerous radio and television talk shows. “I am thrilled to start working with such a talented and dedicated staff of journalists,” said Welch. “This is a great opportunity to broaden the reach of my political coverage and tell stories that affect Arizona voters and their families.” With more than 13 years of experience under his belt, Welch’s arrival only strengthens 3TV’s commitment to providing first-rate political and government coverage across all platforms. When not covering politics, Welch is an avid runner and fronts a punk rock band that plays frequently throughout the Southwest and California.

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