Last week, Sen. Kamala Harris introduced a bill titled “Family Friendly Schools Act.” The bill aimed at creating a pilot study in 500 schools, ultimately aligning school days with work days in working class communities. School days would end at around 6 p.m., following the 5 p.m. end for working days. Co-sponsored by Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, the bill would increase the regular school day with extracurricular activities and extended day care.
Speaking on her personal experiences for the inspiration of the bill, Sen. Harris said, “My mother raised my sister and me while working demanding, long hours. 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.”
For Harris, opportunities to provide struggling families with daycare options to reduce the stress of juggling school pick ups was crucial in the formation of the bill. Talking about the bill’s afterschool programming, she stressed that teachers’ working hours would not be increased. Instead, the grant money would fund newly created programs appropriate for each level and implement them.
Harris’s bill covered comprehensive after-school care in three main aspects. First, a system of five-year grants of up to $5 million for school districts that serve a high number of low-income families would be created to transform elementary schools into Family Friendly Schools. This would, initially, be a pilot study. Secondly, building upon that, the bill would require the Department of Education to publish and analyse a report on lessons learned from the pilot schools at the end of the five-year grant period. Lastly, the bill would also authorize an additional $1.3 billion annually for 21st Century Community Learning Centers to fund child access summer programming.
Brought out last week, the legislation was additionally sponsored by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), and supported by well-respected organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, the Center for American Progress, the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Summer Learning Association.
Speaking about the impact of the bill on children, Elizabeth Short, a professor in Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Psychological Sciences, expressed her enthusiasm for the bill. Short said that it was high time to have a framework like that for working parents and low income households. She mentioned that although children would have a longer day than before, there were serious benefits since alternative arrangements still cause them to have unstructured time away from parents until the end of the work day. This policy would help erase many of the problems associated with finding alternative care and help women in their roles as primary caregiver.
Other reactions have been varied. Whoopi Goldberg expressed her disappointment with the bill, warning that the proposal could lead to “institutionalizing” of schoolchildren, since not all schools have gymnasiums or spaces for children to escape classrooms. On the other hand, Catherine Brown, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, has said, “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. Sen. Harris’ proposal would better support families in arranging child care and their work schedules, enabling more parents—largely mothers—to work, advancing educational equity and providing a needed boost to our economy.”