November 8, 2019

Kamala Harris’s School Plan

On Wednesday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced a bill which 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 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday during the school year, with no closures except for Federal holidays, weekends, and emergencies.”

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From the Left

The left supports the motivation behind the plan, with some arguing that Harris should have gone further to help working parents.

“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. And then, of course, there’s summer vacation, a two- to three-month break that leaves working parents scrambling for day-long care… The mismatch between the school day and work day presents a real burden to working Americans with families.”
Kara Voght, Mother Jones

“Harris’s plan is not only designed to provide child care, but to provide actual enrichment for kids— physical activity, reading, tutoring, and other beneficial activities that affluent parents can pay for through camps, private programs, babysitters, and tutors. This objective is also part of what rankles Harris’s critics [on the left]… [One such critic attacks] Harris for designing a program that assumes many parents will continue to put in eight-hour days, with some commuting time, instead of a socialist paradise where they clock out at 2:30. ‘Rather than reshaping society to accommodate the needs of workers,’ he writes. ‘Harris’s plan is designed to keep more people working for longer, suiting the interests of their employers’…

“The first part of that sentence — ‘Rather than reshaping society …’ — is so perfect. Why would Harris try to give low-income students a better education when she could simply reshape society?... It’s certainly true that the left has long advocated a shorter working day and more vacation time. But even blue-sky left-wingers tend to settle on an eight-hour day as a standard, with vacation schedules still much shorter than what most schools use… To demand Harris address this entirely through workplace reforms is to demand she institute not only a maximum eight-hour day, but also end work for parents around 2:30 or so, plus a full day off every day school is out that isn’t a national holiday (there are a lot of them), plus ten weeks or so over the summer.”
Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine

Some argue that “While Harris’s school-day extension program may not be the flippant neoliberal fluff that its most vociferous critics first suggested, it’s also far from a serious solution to the chronic overworking of both teachers and parents. The childcare deficit for working families sits at the intersection of frozen wages, longer workdays, and skyrocketing private childcare costs. And Harris’s plan and the reaction to it, if anything, offer an object lesson in why Band-Aid approaches to such a multi-factored problem won’t work

“After-school programs already exist en masse for wealthy school systems with wealthy parents filling up wealthy PTAs. The idea of delivering a sense of equity to schools that service lower-income communities is full of potential. But that potential is undercut by its demand that the participating schools find a non-federal partner to match at least ten percent of the federal grant… Any proposal that relies on private funding is almost guaranteed to widen the gap between affluent and more cash-strapped communities.”
Nick Martin, The New Republic

Harris’s plan is “a great start, but it’s not enough. We need a voucher system for people who work late nights and early-morning shifts. Parents need real dollars and quality options they can choose from… An after-school care allowance would enable low-income families to find safe and beneficial environments for their kids until the workday finishes. A voucher system would be flexible enough to work across the gamut of potential after-school activities — allowing parents to pay for tutoring, arts, dance, karate, and so forth — instead of forcing kids’ participation in only the activities provided by their particular school, as Harris’ plan would obligate.”
Andre Perry, Medium

From the Right

The right is critical of the plan, arguing that the federal government is not an adequate substitute for families and local communities.

The right is critical of the plan, arguing that the federal government is not an adequate substitute for families and local communities.

“The first question here is whether we want federal taxpayers helping to engineer a deep change in the expected role of schools. Education is a local priority, and the non-educational functions of schools should especially be left to local control. If states and cities want to ensure that schools make child care available all year, they’re free to fund that with their own money rather than hitting up federal taxpayers…

“The policy also puts the government’s thumb on the scale when it comes to parents’ decision of whether to both work or have one parent stay home. One natural consequence of working parents is that kids need care from someone else, and the cost of that care should be factored into this decision. But Harris would have the public shoulder the cost instead. This also means that when parents do decide to have an adult stay home, they’ll still be stuck paying the extra taxes to fund everyone else’s child care… If we want to make life easier for parents, we can just give them money, rather than expanding the reach of schools into families’ responsibilities and discouraging stay-at-home parenting.”
Robert Verbruggen, National Review

“Harris’s program forgets that education doesn’t just happen at school. It happens in the home. A good education will provide more than book knowledge. It will also provide social interaction and, hopefully, character formation. These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a public school equipped to offer all of the above. That’s why it’s important for children to spend time in their neighborhoods, with their friends and family. Locking children up in a school building all day will keep them from the community that will ultimately influence and shape them…

“There are real problems facing U.S. families, but Harris’s program is another attempt to replace community with big government. Instead, communities should make this a priority, with the promotion of the family at the forefront. Cities such as Chapel Hill, North Carolina, have already begun to make progress, offering parents tax credits and scholarship programs to help pay for child care close to their homes. Reasonable steps like these relieve parents of undue stress without sacrificing the social and moral development of their children.”
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

“I had a single working mother who rarely if ever was able to pick me up, or be available for extra events imposed by the school. I remember ‘the gap’ quite well. It would have been strange for us even to think of using [paid] child care. The institutions of our world filled the gap: neighbors, friends, and family. I remember the phrase ‘it takes a village’ made some sense to me at the time… I instinctively recoil at the idea of using schools for after-school work. My own childhood experience taught me a great deal of independence and responsibility. It gave me confidence to call on neighbors and friends for help. This is good practice for offering it back in the future.”
Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review

“The candidates all have admirable aims with these proposals, like helping working parents, giving kids more education, and fostering volunteerism and social cohesion. But the result in practice is young people spending more time in controlled, institutional settings and less time with their families or on their own, building the skills of independence they need for adulthood. Children need to be let alone sometimes. These plans eat up what little freedom they have

“Kids' free time is already shrinking, being consumed by longer hours of instruction, after-school care, and other scheduled activities. Unstructured recess time is on the decline, contrary to pediatricians' recommendation, and where recess persists, it is often hedged into inactivity by onerous rules and heavy homework loads. And parents are increasingly subject to scrutiny, including from law enforcement, for statistically safe behavior that was considered perfectly normal a decade or two ago, like leaving a child in the car for five minutes while running into a store or letting them play at a park alone. Making the school day 10 hours long is a huge jump down this road whose destination we frankly do not know.”
Bonnie Kristian, The Week

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