Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON -- Kim Chappelow-Lee has been running after-school programs at the Johnson County Park and Recreation District in suburban Kansas City since 1979, and she's learned what hungry, noisy children need most in the hours from 3 to 6 p.m.

Every day they choose from four or five activities that include homework help; hands-on science experiments; physical exercise, such as Zumba dance fitness classes; and "Taste Test Tuesdays," when they sample untried, but nutritious, foods and write what they think about them in their journals.

Chappelow-Lee's program in Johnson County runs on fees parents pay and some state subsidies for low-income families. Elsewhere, though, after-school centers attended by low-income children get some of their funding from a longtime federal program that could be cut as Congress revises the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Advocates, such as the nonprofit Afterschool Alliance, an advocacy group for after-school programs, are pressing Congress to keep the funding, saying all children should be getting good care after the last school bell rings, with plenty of exercise and healthy food.

Chappelow-Lee grew up with a stay-at-home mom and remembers a childhood of playing outside unsupervised and enjoying it.

"I think it's really sad that today's children don't have those opportunities. And I think it's a great responsibility of out-of-schooltime programs to try to replicate those experiences," she said.

Robert Hill of the YMCA of South Florida said his after-school centers disconnected the TVs to allow more time for other things, including 40 minutes of physical activity. Snacks include fruit and vegetables. Staff members are required to be models of good manners and healthy eating.

After-school programs, a lifeline for working parents, have been growing across the country. More than 10 million children participate, but 19 million more would attend if their parents could find affordable, easily accessible ones, the alliance found in a survey last year.

But the group also points out the only federal program earmarked for non-schooltime programs, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, is on the chopping block. It began with backing by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in the 1990s. It provides approximately $1 billion nationwide in grants to states for after- and before-school and summer learning programs, mainly for students in high-poverty schools.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are working on revisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, last known as the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. The House version doesn't reauthorize the federal grant program for after-school centers.

An early Senate version of the bill, by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., also would have eliminated the 21st Century Community Learning Centers and other programs, replacing them with a block grant states could decide how to use. Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ranking member, are working on a new bipartisan bill and haven't released details.

In addition to the proposal to make a single block grant, some senators would like to use money dedicated for after-school programs for other needs, such as longer school days, Boxer said.

"We can't steal from this program for any other good ideas," Boxer said. "We need to make sure our kids aren't left alone or with each other to get into all kinds of trouble."

More than 1.6 million children participated in 21st Century Community Learning Centers last year. Boxer and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced a bill in January that would keep the program running at its current level.

Government grants and foundations pay for some after-school care, but parents pay the biggest share, even in poor communities, according to a 2009 study by the Afterschool Alliance and the Harvard School of Public Health. It found that parents on average pay 76 percent of the costs, and that low-income parents paid 54 percent.

Last year's parent survey by the alliance found that parents on average pay $113.50 per week, and that 1 in 5 parents surveyed said they received government assistance.

What's healthy after school?

These are voluntary standards adopted in 2011 by the National AfterSchool Association.

Healthy eating standards include:

* Serve a fruit or vegetable.

* Offer water during snacks and at all times. No beverages with caloric sweeteners, including soda and juice.

* No sugar-based candy or other foods.

* "Nutrient dense" options such as baked goods made with whole grains and protein foods that include lean meats, nuts or beans.

Physical activity standards include:

* At least 30 minutes during the program (60 minutes recommended for all day). Half should be "moderately to vigorously active."

* Play outside whenever possible.

* Offer unstructured free play or structured activities that involve everyone.

* No TV or movies.

* Digital device time limited to less than one hour per day and limited to homework or programs that engage children in moderate to intense physical activity.