ACA Responds to Department of Education Call for Comments on Prioritizing Discretionary Grant Programs

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called for public comment regarding the prioritization of discretionary grant funding for fiscal year 2011. The Department of Education creates priorities in order to focus federal funding on projects on areas with the greatest educational need. Comments were due by 9/7/2010.


President Obama set a clear goal for the US education system: By 2020, the US will "once again lead the world in the proportion of citizens holding college degrees or other postsecondary credentials." To support this goal, the Department of Education is outlining an education agenda that includes discretionary grant programs to "effectively spur innovation."

American Camp Association Response

The American Camp Association has responded to the proposed priorities with key messages about the value of the camp experience in the year-round education of the whole child. View the entire ACA response. Excerpt:

The American Camp Association applauds President Obama’s goal for our education system — for the United States to once again lead the world in the proportion of citizens holding college degrees or other postsecondary credentials by the year 2020. However, as we deliberate solutions, please consider that it is possible that our children are beginning to lag behind other nations in academic achievement because we are focusing on the wrong things. Teaching children to pass standardized tests doesn't necessarily teach them to think for themselves. Education is about more than teaching answers; it's about equipping our kids with the ability to develop the art of seeing the possibilities.

We believe that the answer can be found in more places than just the classroom — places located in much more natural, developmental settings that promote experiential learning, improve social skills and physical fitness, teach kids to take calculated risks in a safe environment, and expand the creative mind. With the current trend in our education system, we are leaving little room for innovation.

The innovations supported in your proposed priorities could go a long way toward improving the year-round education of the whole child — if innovative outcome-based programs will be eligible for discretionary funding. Specifically, we believe that the innovative approaches found in summertime camp programs and camp programs that partner with schools and colleges/universities during the academic year should be eligible recipients of discretionary grants.

Camps, especially camps that serve the high-needs children and the high-poverty schools described in your draft, need to be included as potential recipients of the Department of Education’s discretionary grants programs. Language in current grants most often excludes camp programs, especially those focused on summertime learning, from applying for discretionary grants. I urge you to eliminate this barrier and open the door for more innovative ways to provide for the year-round education of the whole child.

How Camp Programs Can Support the Proposed Priorities (View the full text of ACA's Response)

Priority 1 — Improving Early Learning Outcomes
Research has shown that children participating in camp programs show significant growth in self-esteem, independence, leadership, friendship skills, social comfort, peer relationships, adventure and exploration, environmental awareness, and decision making. These are all goals articulated in this priority area. Ensuring that outcome-based camp programs are eligible recipients of discretionary grants will support this priority area.

Priority 4 — Turning Around Persistently Lowest-Achieving Schools
Your draft indicates that “students in these schools can benefit from participating in programs that offer additional services designed to increase student success.” Many camps have developed programs with schools that address academic learning outcomes in addition to developmental outcomes. Partnerships between camps and schools can play a critical role in changing our educational environment, while continuing to also be a known site for positive youth development. Camps have innovative programs that can boost academic enrichment, provide opportunities for leadership, facilitate decision-making and problem-solving skills, and ensure that young people achieve their highest potential towards becoming fully-functioning adults. Again, ensuring that outcome-based camp programs are eligible recipients of discretionary grants will support this priority area.

Priority 5 — Increasing Postsecondary Success
Other research has demonstrated how camp helps young adults with career exploration. Seventy-two percent of study participants were more aware of what they wanted to do with their career because of camp. This supports your goal of “increasing the rates at which high-needs students are academically prepared for and enroll in college or other postsecondary education and training.” Expanding opportunities for high school students and young adults to participate in camp experiences as staff members will support this priority area.

Priority 7 — Promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education
ACA's research has shown that children participating in camp programs experience consistent growth in their physical and thinking skills — especially in environmental awareness, adventure, and exploration. These growth areas are integral goals of the STEM program. This priority area also supports environmental literacy, including all the goals and programs in the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI). ACA supports the inclusion of the provisions in NCLI as Congress reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Priority 9 — Support for Military Families
Camps have a long and rich history of partnering with the military to provide summertime camp experiences for the children of active-duty military personnel. Operation Purple is one such program. Programs through Operation Military Kids are also delivered through camps. By ensuring that discretionary grant programs support these types of camp programs, we can continue to provide support to military families.

The Department of Education's Proposed Priorities

  • View the full text of the proposed priorities

American Camp Association Resources

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