WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new bill introduced to the U.S. Senate on Wednesday could see the length and number of school days at public elementary schools across the country extended in an effort to better align with the average parent's work schedule.
“My mother raised my sister and me while working demanding, long hours,” said Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA). “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."
The bill, dubbed the Family Friendly Schools Act, is sponsored by Sen. Harris, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), plus Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).
Rather than simply extending teaching hours, the bill attempts to establish "academic, athletic, or enrichment opportunities" for students between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday — with no school closures except on federal holidays, weekends, or in case of emergency.
"Given the struggle that many families face when trying to find high-quality, affordable child care, aligning the school day with the work day 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," said Olivia Golden, Executive Director at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
If passed, the bill would begin by establishing a pilot program at 500 schools through $5 million in grants to test the program's efficacy. It would also grant $1.3 billion every year for the "21st Century Community Learning Centers" program to fund summer learning programs for children.
“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," said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. "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.”