(WASHINGTON) – Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced a bill last week that seeks to help working parents by aligning school hours with the normal workday.
Under the bill, called the “Family Friendly Schools Act,” 500 schools in the United States would push the end of the average school day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
The bill would create a “first-of-its-kind pilot program” to give schools resources to stay open during the entire workday throughout the school year and to invest more than $1 billion to enrich summer learning programs. This would be accomplished without forcing teachers to work longer hours or for less pay, according to the press release.
“My mother raised my sister and me while working demanding, long hours,” said Senator Harris. “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. But, this does not have to be the case. My bill provides an innovative solution that will help reduce the burden of childcare on working families. It is time we modernize the school schedule to better meet the needs of our students and their families.”
Throughout the United States, current school schedules make life harder for working families. Research shows that schools are shut down for an average of 29 days throughout the school year. With the vast majority of schools closing at or around 3 pm, two hours short of the standard full-time workday, parents are often left in a bind. Additionally, summer breaks present a challenge; in fact, three in four parents report at least some difficulty finding childcare during that time period.
The economic cost of this problem is substantial. Schools are closed for two weeks longer than the typical American with paid leave has in paid holidays and vacation. Further, 39 percent of all workers and 80 percent of low-wage workers lack access to any paid vacation time. This places a financial burden on parents and caregivers to either pay for additional childcare or take leave without pay to care for their child. While the misalignment of school and work schedules affect all families, low-income households often shoulder the greatest burden especially those with unpredictable or inflexible work schedules.
The legislation will:
- Award five-year grants of up to $5 million total to school districts to transform elementary schools serving a high number of low-income families into Family Friendly Schools that:
- Collaborate with community partners to develop high-quality, culturally relevant, linguistically accessible, developmentally appropriate academic, athletic, or enrichment opportunities for students from at least 8 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday during the school year, with no closures except for Federal holidays, weekends, and emergencies;
- Do not close for parent-teacher conferences, professional development, or any other reason without offering full-day enrichment activities free of charge for students;
- Do not increase the amount of time teachers and staff have to work unless they choose to work additional hours, and are compensated fairly for the additional hours; and
- Develop and implement evidence-based policies and practices for parent and family engagement to support working families and help better align school and work schedules.
- Require the Department of Education to publish and disseminate a report on lessons learned from the pilot schools at the end of the five-year grant period, including:
- Approaches taken by Family Friendly Schools to align school and work schedules;
- Survey results on parents, teachers, students, school administrators, and community organizations satisfaction with Family Friendly Schools;
- Changes in parental employment rates, student performance, and teacher retention at each Family Friendly School; and
- Best practices and recommendations for aligning school and work schedules, aligning school schedules and calendars among schools and school districts, and engaging parents and families.
- Authorize an additional $1.3 billion annually for 21st Century Community Learning Centers to allow up to 1.8 million more children to access summer programming.
The Family Friendly Schools Act received support from the following organizations: American Federation of Teachers, Center for American Progress, CLASP, EdNavigator, First Focus, Institute for Educational Leadership, Main Street Alliance, National Association of Counties, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Summer Learning Association, National Women’s Law Center, and National League of Cities.
“By investing in before, and after school programming, summer enrichment and 21st Century Community Learning Centers, this legislation addresses a chronic and long-neglected problem: too many working parents can’t access affordable care for their kids during the workday,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “After a decade of disinvestment in public education, more than half of public elementary schools lack the funding to meet kids and families where they are and offer care beyond traditional school hours. Roughly one million mothers of elementary school children cut their hours at work because of a lack of affordable childcare. This bill would enable school districts and communities to find solutions that work for them, and would make sure teachers and paraprofessionals aren’t filling in the gaps without respect and fair compensation.”
“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. “Senator Harris’ proposal would better support families in arranging childcare and their work schedules, enabling more parents – largely mothers – to work, advancing educational equity and providing a needed boost to our economy.”
“The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is proud to support Senator’s Harris’ Family Friendly Schools Act,” said Olivia Golden, Executive Director at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). “The disconnect between school and work schedules can cause unnecessary hardship for working parents and their children. One in six workers report that their schedules vary based on the needs of their employer— and workers in low-wage jobs are disproportionately represented among those with unpredictable schedules. Given the struggle that many families face when trying to find high-quality, affordable childcare, aligning the school day with the workday and expanding resources for afterschool and summer care and learning programs is a positive initial step towards improving job stability, child well-being, and economic security for families across the country. We applaud Senator Harris for introducing this innovative legislation.”
In addition to Harris, the bill is sponsored by U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).
Full text of the bill is available here.
Further background on the bill is available here.
Additional statements of support are available here.