The 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program (21CCLC) is an initiative established by the US Congress to provide rural and urban schools that have high levels of student poverty with funding for activities during out-of-school hours (before school, after school, weekends, and summers) to allow students further opportunities to meet national and state standards and, ultimately, succeed in school. The program was initially authorized under Title X, Part I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and administered as a competitive grant at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Education. With the reauthorization of the ESEA in 2001 (the legislation known as the "No Child Left Behind Act", NCLB, or phonetically, "Nickelby"), the program was moved to Title IV, Part B and is now administered at the state level. Funds are distributed to the states by a formula, and a competitive process is established for the distribution of funds.

Eligible applicants include Local Education Agencies (LEAs – for the most part, school districts), rural or urban schools receiving funds under Title I, Part A (the poverty indicator, which is based on the percentage of students participating in the National School Lunch Program), community-based organizations, private or non-profit organizations, or a consortium of any of these types of entities. The program consists of 13 possible area of activities; applicants much choose at least 4 and are mandated to include #13, which is activities that accommodate students with disabilities. The other program areas are (1) remedial education activities and academic enrichment learning programs; (2) math and science activities; (3) arts and music education; (4) entrepreneurial education; (5) tutoring and mentoring services; (6) activities for students with limited English proficiency; (7) recreational activities; (8) telecommunication and technology education; (9) expanded library service hours; (10) programs that promote parental involvement and family literacy; (11) assistance to students who have been truant, suspended, or expelled; and (12) drug and violence prevention.

The goal of the program is to offer traditionally underserved populations extra educational, behavioral, and recreational activities to enhance their success in school and after graduation. It is strongly encouraged that proposals address the needs of the families of students at-risk for academic failure. A major component of the program is the involvement of as many partners as possible; this becomes important towards the end of the 5-year funding period, when grantees are responsible for matching 20%, 40%, and 60% of the award amount in years 3, 4, and 5, respectively. The purpose of the matching is to urge the program participants towards creating a self-sustaining program that involves various community contributions.

Since the program’s inception, about 7,000 centers have been established. In FY 2001, the appropriation was $846 million; in FY 2001, the appropriation was increased to $1 billion. In FY 2002, the appropriation was further increased to $1.25 billion with the addition of $250 million each year through 2007.

USDOE Publication: "Outline of Programs and Selected Changes in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001"