Kamala Harris Proposes Giving Schools Money to Be Open Longer Each Day to Help Working Families

The Family Friendly Schools Act would grant up to $5 million in federal dollars to school districts in a pilot program to "restructure and expand the school day"

Kids entering school saying goodbye to parents
Photo: Getty

California Sen. Kamala Harris, a 2020 presidential candidate, this week announced a proposal to ease the burden placed on working parents by ensuring their children’s schools are open longer each day and providing programs for kids while their families are still at their jobs.

Titled the Family Friendly Schools Act, Harris’ bill would grant up to $5 million in federal dollars to districts encompassing 500 elementary schools as a five-year pilot program in which each school would “restructure and expand the school day” by offering programming and other learning opportunities from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day.

However, students would not be required by the bill to attend these longer days and classroom time would not expand, a Harris spokeswoman tells PEOPLE.

In effect, instead, Harris’ bill would fund the expansion of before- and after-school programs as well as programs during the summer break. (The proposal would also require additional funding of at least 10 percent outside the federal government, though that money could not be collected as fees from families.)

Schools receiving funding would also be required to stay open year-round, including during the summer, except for federal holidays, weekends and emergencies such as bad weather.

The bill would allot $1.3 billion each year toward “community learning centers” for expanding summer programs.

“Our bill does not mandate how schools implement the program so long as they stay open until 6 p.m.,” the Harris spokeswoman says. “Schools have the flexibility to determine what works best for their community and the students and their families. … [They] may use the extra time for high-quality academic, athletic, extracurricular or community-based learning opportunities.”

As examples, the spokeswoman suggested cooking classes or workshops in the arts, engineering, music and other electives.

Teachers and school staff would not be required to work additional hours either unless they volunteered and received appropriate pay.

The results of this program, including feedback from school employees and families and recommendations for expanding such changes to other schools, would be reported after three years and at the conclusion of the grants.

Senator Kamala Harris during "Slow Jam The News
Sen. Kamala Harris. Andrew Lipovsky/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty

On Wednesday, Harris, 55, made the announcement harkening back to her own mom’s struggles raising two daughters while working to support them.

“My mother raised my sister and me while working demanding, long hours,” Harris said in a news release. “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.”

She added: “This does not have to be the case. … It is time we modernize the school schedule to better meet the needs of our students and their families.”

The bill is also sponsored by Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet, Richard Blumenthal, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand and Jeff Merkley.

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Harris’ plan shares similarities to some of her 2020 White House competitors who also look to increase schools’ services for families.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren‘s education plan includes an effort to transition 25,000 schools to a “community school framework” by 2030 that supports “expanded learning time.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to spend $5 billion a year to “substantially expand access to summer and after-school programs, teen centers and tutoring” to help young people “learn, grow and avoid risky behaviors,” according to his education plan.

Earlier this year, the Trump Administration’s 2020 budget plan proposed cutting federal funding to after-school programs across the country as a move to remove government involvement in local education. But the Afterschool Alliance said that had these cuts gone into effect, they would have negatively impacted 1.7 million children and families.

In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom took legislative steps to alter the traditional education schedule when he passed a law that bumped the start time for classes.

Hoping to allow students more sleep and, in return, better learning performances, the legislation mandates that middle schools in the state can open no earlier than 8 a.m., and high schools must open at 8:30 a.m. or later.

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