Kamala Harris indoctrinates innocent middle-schoolers with socialism. (California Attorney General photo, 2010)

Sen. Kamala Harris introduced a bill yesterday that would fund schools to experiment with making school schedules better meet the needs of working parents. Called the Family Friendly Schools Act, the proposal would relieve the child care burden for working families, which is considerable, as Mother Jones reporter Kara Vogt explains:

The majority of schools days end around 3 p.m., two hours before the end of 70 percent of parents' workdays. And most schools don't have a way to make up the difference. Fewer than half of all elementary schools—and fewer than a third of low-income schools—offer after-school care. Beyond that misalignment, schools shut down, on average, for 29 days during the school year, the majority of which are reserved for professional development, parent-teacher conferences, and myriad vacations and minor holidays the federal government doesn't recognize. That's a full two weeks' worth of days more than what the average American has in holidays, vacation, and paid leave combined.

On top of that, there's summer vacation, which was a fairly useful idea when America was mostly rural and kids were needed on the farm, but mostly leaves working parents desperate to find something to keep the kids safe and occupied for two or three months while they forget everything they learned. Thank Crom there's TV, video games, and friendly internet Nazis willing to keep the kids busy!

As a result, Vogt notes, during the school year, "3 percent of elementary-school students and 19 percent of middle-school students look after themselves from 3 to 6 p.m. on school nights," and parents who can afford to pay for after-school childcare shell out an average of $6,000 a year for it. (See also Vogt's longread on the problem at the Atlantic.)

Instead of solving the problem by blaming single moms for all social problems, Harris's bill would establish a five-year pilot program to fund grants of up to $5 million in 500 elementary schools that mostly serve low-income families. The schools, working with parents and community groups, would develop programs that would keep the schools open from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Monday through Friday during the school year, with no closures apart from federal holidays and emergencies. No school closures for in-service days or parent-teacher conferences; those would still go on, but the community partners would provide enrichment and activities for kids while they took place. And already overworked teachers won't simply be forced to work longer hours -- if they choose to, they'll be compensated for it.

Let's get out the washable markers and the butcher paper, spread out around the room, and take a look at how this would work, shall we?

First off, while the proposal has some specifics about what the program would have to include -- plans to make school days match up better with working parents' schedules -- it's deliberately left up to the schools and their communities to come up with many of the details. Vogt edusplains:

Schools are encouraged to use the funding to collaborate with community partners to develop "high-quality, culturally relevant, linguistically accessible, developmentally appropriate academic, athletic, or enrichment opportunities for students." The directive is purposefully vague: Schools are to spend the first year surveying parents, teachers, and community members to determine what sort of extended school day would work best for their particular school population.

Catherine Brown, whose research for the Center for American Progress Harris draws on, says the bill is exciting because it's not prescribing solutions beyond the general goals, so the schools and community partners in the pilot program can get innovative.

We don't have the solutions yet, but they're going to come from local communities that know what works best for their parents and students

The community participation component would be vital to making the plans work, and would make that whole it takes a village adage a practical part of the school day:

"This could be a real win for teachers," Brown explains, noting that an extended schedule would give schools the chance to get creative about who has responsibility for students throughout the day. "It shifts the mindset from one teacher being responsible for a group of kids all day to the school and community collectively watching students."

After five years, the Education Department, no longer a wholly owned subsidiary of Betsy DeVos's favored private segregation academies, would look at the pilot schools, study what worked and what didn't for student outcomes, parents' employment, and teacher retention, and then create a broader program if the data are encouraging.

The idea went over well with one teachers union head:

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the country's largest teachers unions, supports the measure. "This bill would enable school districts and communities to find solutions that work for them," she said in a statement, while ensuring "teachers and paraprofessionals aren't filling in the gaps without respect and fair compensation."

It must be a fairly good proposal, too, since some dipshit at RedState is terrified it will Destroy the American Family by subjecting children to more Government Indoctrination:

In fact, it's about the opposite of family: It keeps children away from their parents.


Dipshit explains Harris's real goal here is to get more women into the workplace and to reinforce the hairy-legged feminist belief that children are nothing but a bad idea, so if we just warehouse the kids in schools longer, people will finally stop having them. Yes, he also has a good chortle over "culturally relevant," because he just knows that means all the kids will be learning ebonics and using "that extra educational time to memorize the 100+ genders," HAW HAW. Clearly, instead of these selfish women having jobs and supporting their families, they should homeschool their kids and be supported by their husbands. One can be assigned if necessary.

Meanwhile, over at Vice, Harris's proposal was excoriated by some lefty dude because it seeks to make schools adjust to the reality of working moms' lives instead of bringing about a wholesale revolution in the world of work. What a dirty neoliberal Harris is! Lefty dude is very angry that the plan notes that a lot of women have to work part-time, in low-paid jobs with lousy benefits, so they can be available to take care of their kids after school. But don't you see, he says, changing the school day to accommodate that is just an excuse to exploit women more by forcing them to work longer hours, as if Harris weren't also in favor of fair pay for women and expanding labor rights -- especially for women in currently low-paying jobs.

Instead of wasting her time on a proposal that could actually result in making school and work fit together better, the Vice lefty argues, she should be insisting that all Americans shift to a shorter work week. There she goes, taking the lazy, easy way out:

Rather than reshaping society to accommodate the needs of workers, Harris's plan is designed to keep more people working for longer, suiting the interests of their employers and using gestures towards community input as a smokescreen.

How lazy and neoliberal! She could be calling for total societal transformation, but instead she just cops out and proposes something that would let people not worry about what their kids are getting up to after school. What a small-minded jerk she is.

As Yr Wonkette's own Stephen Robinson pointed out on the Twitter machine, maybe the answer isn't to pretend that schools that fit people's real hours is a devious plot to disempower women and reify the corporate power structure.

You're also not shortening the work day if you end your shift and have to entertain a seven-year-old for a few hours before dinner.

There is so much guilt sent in women's directions for having kids in day care but children like to play and engage with other kids, and a good after school program helps with that in ways a single, tired parent just can't. And you're not a lousy parent for admitting this.

A shorter work week would be great! Until the revolution, however, parents and kids would get a hell of a lot out of a system where we don't just leave kids sitting around at home alone for hours or force parents into crappy jobs so they can be home by 3:30.

[Mother Jones / Atlantic / Kamala Harris / Family Friendly Schools Act bill text / Vice / Photo: California Attorney General's office, archived photo at Wikimedia Commons]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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