Children should not be forgotten just because the school year ends, and they should not suffer learning losses because their parents cannot afford the high cost of summer camp or childcare.

Rather, summer should be the time when kids are able to learn and grow in new ways, academically and developmentally, regardless of their family’s income. Investing in these summer programs is essential to achieve greater equity in education, and should be made a national priority.

“Summer is the most unequal time in America” for school-aged children, says Matthew Boulay, who heads the National Summer Learning Association.

During a congressional briefing this week, he called summer the time of year when the “faucet of resources” provided by the government is turned off, depriving kids of the low-cost meals, academic opportunities, and childcare that is available to low-income kids from public schools during the academic year.

Research backs up Boulay’s claim. According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, unequal opportunities during the summer accounts for two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading – a result of summer learning loss. Food insecurity, an even more basic need, is also a major problem for low-income kids during the summer. Only one in six children eligible for the federal Summer Food Service program receive these meals, due to lack of transportation and other hurdles.

However, Boulay stressed, while this time of year might expose the lurking inequalities between children from low-income families and their wealthier peers, the lack of accessible summer programs also provides a blank slate for innovation, and the opportunity to engage kids in new ways.

Tuesday’s event on Capitol Hill, sponsored by the National Summer Learning Association, brought together experts from around the country to speak about innovative summer programming for kids in American cities and counties.

Speakers discussed different local programs with varied focuses, including initiatives to deliver healthy lunches to kids, provide low-cost swimming lessons and sports camps, and to put students on a path to college and career-readiness. However, what ultimately united each presentation was their emphasis on the importance of federal funding sources for making these enriching summer programs possible at all.

These funding sources are under threat in President Trump’s 2018 Budget proposal. In particular, funding for 21st Century Learning Centers, a federal program geared towards providing after school and summer learning opportunities, is completely eliminated in the proposed budget.

Nearly all of the initiatives discussed at the briefing had utilized the 21st Century funding to get their programs off the ground, leveraging the federal support to attract partnerships and justify local investment in the programs.

This funding, combined with community partnerships, has produced striking results from the programs. Students who attended these learning centers improved their school attendance, class participation and behavior, and reading and math achievement scores. Beyond that, the positive effects of these programs rippled out to the rest of the family. Eight of out ten parents report that the existence of these programs helped them keep their jobs by providing enriching childcare after school and in the summer.

Given this track record of success for kids and families, the First Focus Campaign for Children supports efforts to maintain this program in future budget proposals.