WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced a bill Wednesday that seeks to help working parents by aligning school hours with the normal work day.
Under the bill, called the “Family Friendly Schools Act,” 500 schools in the U.S. 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 work day throughout the school year and to invest over $1 billion to enrich summer learning programs. This would be accomplished without forcing teachers to work longer hours or for less pay, according to a press release .
If the bill was passed into law, five-year grants of up to $5 million would be awarded to school districts to transform elementary schools serving a high number of low-income families into “Family Friendly Schools.” Those school would:
· 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 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday during the school year, with no closures except for Federal holidays, weekends, and emergencies;
· Would not close for parent-teacher conferences, professional development, or any other reason without offering full-day enrichment activities free of charge for students;
· Would 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;
· 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.
Additionally, the bill would 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. And, it would 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.
“My mother raised my sister and me while working demanding, long hours,” said Sen. 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 child care on working families. It is time we modernize the school schedule to better meet the needs of our students and their families.”
In addition to Sen. Harris, the bill is sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).
Several educational organizations have also voiced their support for the bill, including the American Federation of Teachers.
“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 organization. “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 child care. 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.”