What Would a Family Friendly School Look Like?

If the school day better aligned with the work day, busy parents wouldn't be stretched quite so thin. A new bill proposes one way to address that.

It might be one of the most vexing challenges for working parents: Why, why, is there such a huge gap between the hours kids are in school and the hours parents are at work? Research shows that schools are closed for about two weeks longer than the average American worker with paid leave has off—and that doesn’t even include summer vacation. And almost 40 percent of all workers (and 80 percent of low-wage workers) have no paid time off at all.

At EdNavigator, we work with parents in all kinds of jobs: Many of our members work shifts as nurses, restaurant staff, and facilities managers. Their hours aren’t always predictable, and they’re often outside the 8 AM to 3 PM window that their kids are in school. Others work long hours as contractors and hospitality staff; others behind desks. For all of them, the rigid schedule of the school day—not to mention the many days schools are closed for parent-teacher conferences, professional development, and vacation—makes it incredibly challenging to earn their livings while also taking care of their families. It’s hard enough to fill in (and pay for) childcare gaps during summer vacation, but the reality is that most parents have to do a lot of scrambling, all year long, to make sure their kids have somewhere to be during the many hours that school and work do not overlap.

Just today, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), a Democratic candidate for president, offered up a new idea to address that challenge. Called the Family Friendly Schools Act, the proposed bill would award grants to transform 500 schools serving predominantly students from low-income families into “Family Friendly Schools.” These school buildings would be open from 8 to 6 PM; during the school year, they would only close for weekends, national holidays, and emergencies. They would have to provide care and enrichment activities for students during any additional days off (for example, those reserved for teacher professional development). And the schools would be tasked with finding alternative ways to connect with families, for example by having conferences during more flexible hours or offering virtual meetings for parents who can’t be there in person. Finally, the bill also puts aside $1.3 billion annually for summer enrichment programming for as many as 1.8 million children nationwide.

We’re fans of the idea. For the families we work with, inconsistent schedules and school days that end in the middle of the afternoon are a huge challenge. That challenge is all the more pronounced for parents who work multiple jobs, or whose own working hours are hard to predict. The Family Friendly Schools Act is a welcome step in the right direction. We hope other presidential candidates—on both sides of the aisle—will start thinking outside the bounds of our traditional school calendar to make it easier for families to support their children’s education.

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