Budget appropriations, efficiencies, returns on investments, and the role of Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) in larger education reform efforts were just some of the topics discussed at this year’s ELO Policy Summit, which took place late last month. Organized by Beyond School Bells and held in partnership with the University of Nebraska Lincoln’s Center for Civic Engagement, this year’s summit brought together about 70 afterschool and summer program advocates, policy makers, funders, and other leaders for a half-day meeting filled with presentations and discussions focusing on how to grow more high-quality ELO programs across our state.
The Summit was facilitated by NU Regent Bob Whitehouse, who is himself an ELO systems leader thanks to his role as a Board member for both Beyond School Bells and Collective for Youth, Omaha’s afterschool and summer programming intermediary. Presentations began with a welcome by Dr. Cory Epler, Senior Administrator of Teaching and Learning at the Nebraska Department of Education, emphasizing how high-quality afterschool and summer ELO programs support the Department’s goal of providing every student in Nebraska a quality education.
Senator Heath Mello led off the panel discussions by providing a brief overview of recent legislative successes as well as a look into opportunities for future wins in an uncertain budget climate. The conversation continued with Dr. Greg Welch of NU’s Center for Children, Youth, Families, and Schools, presenting preliminary findings from a literature review of state-level return on investment studies illustrating the positive economic impacts of investments in ELO programs.
The summit ended with a presentation from Tiffany Seibert Joekel, Policy Director at the Open Sky Institute, and John Spatz, Executive Director of the Nebraska Association of School Boards. They discussed how ELO programs fit into a larger agenda of education enhancements that advocates hope will provide more Nebraska youth with the opportunities they need to learn, grow, and prepare for their future careers.
Presentations included time for Q&A sessions and table discussions that enabled participants to share their own reflections on these important topics. Beyond School Bells intends to use insights gained from the Summit to advance its core mission: improving access to and quality of Nebraska’s ELO programs so that more Nebraska youth, especially youth from our state’s most challenging educational environments, can achieve their full potential.