US Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris introduced legislation this week intended to align the school day with the traditional workday to reduce the burden of childcare on working families.
The Family Friendly Schools Act would extend the school day three hours – from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. – during the school year and authorize $1.3 billion annually to allow more children access to summer programming.
Most public schools are open for instructional time for 160-180 days out of the year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This leaves parents to figure out how to care for children on afternoons, weekends and holidays. For working and low-income families, paying for childcare or arranging work schedules present a challenge.
“The misalignment between school and work schedules puts working families through unnecessary financial stress – a burden we know is disproportionately shouldered by Black and Latinx families and families with low incomes,” said Catherine Brown, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, in a news release.
The legislation would award five-year grants of up to $5 million total to school districts to implement programs in elementary schools serving high numbers of low-income families. The grants aim to fund programs that would allow the schools to provide academic, athletic, and enrichment opportunities to students during the extended hours.
Harris’s bill would allow schools to remain open during events such as parent-teacher conferences and professional development days, providing cost-free enrichment activities to students even on weekdays when there are no classes. Exceptions include Federal holidays, weekends, and emergencies.
“My mother raised my sister and me while working demanding, long hours,” said Senator Harris in a statement. “So, I know firsthand that, for many working parents, juggling between school schedules and work schedules is a common cause of stress and financial hardship.”
Not everyone was immediately on board.
Whoopi Goldberg, a co-host on “The View,” warned the proposal could lead to “institutionalizing” of schoolchildren – not all schools have gymnasiums or spaces for the children to escape the classrooms, she said.
And Trish Zornio, a Colorado scientist and Democrat who is hoping to represent the state in the US Senate in 2020, said the better option would be for adults to “scale back the full-time work week and reduce commute time by enhancing remote work days.”
One conservative blogger, Matt Walsh, warned the plan was an attempt by Democrats to “replace the family with the State.”
The new policies would not require teachers and staff to work longer hours and would ensure they are compensated fairly for any additional hours they do choose to work.
In addition to providing five-year grants, Harris’s proposal would require the Department of Education to publish and disseminate a report on the takeaways of the program at the end of the grant period. The report would examine satisfaction survey results, changes in student performance, teacher retention, and best practices recommendations.
The bill is also sponsored by Democratic US Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Richard Blumenthal, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown, and Michael Bennet. It has also received support from organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers, Center for American Progress, and the National Association of Elementary School Principles.