Any parent that has ever struggled to find before and after school child care has probably asked themselves why the school day has to end so much earlier than the work day more than once. Many parents are paying top dollar to find child care for their kids before and after school simply so they can still work their regular work day, and many are wondering why we haven't been able to align the school day and the work day?
A recent article posted in The Atlantic has reignited the debate about why the school day ends, at a minimum, two hours before the workday. Personally my children finish school at 2:17 and 2:20, having them home well before anyone who works typical hours of 9-5 would be home. The article points out that in almost half of the married couples across the United States, both parents work, with 70% of them working from 8am until 5pm. Factor in a commute times and that is a lengthy gap without childcare that many working families have to deal with, often at a great expense.
Although we now have a large percentage of families that have both parents or caregivers working, it seems that schools haven't caught up with offering before and after care, and the ones that do are almost impossible to get a spot in. The article in The Atlantic details one particular before and after program that saw parents lining up for the night before just to try to ensure their child will get a spot in the affordable program. At one time it was commonplace for one parent, typically the mother, to stay home and care for the kids, which meant that school hours didn't impact a family as much as they do now that many families have two working parents.
According to a 2016 article published in Slate, "only 45 percent of elementary schools, and 31 percent of low-income schools, offer before- and after-school programs. Of those that do offer such programs, few of them make them free, discounted, or progressively priced to help make them affordable to low-income families." But if you live in a household where both you and your partner/spouse work, you probably already knew that.
Not only does this time discrepancy cause a hole in child care, but it also contributes to a huge loss of productivity in the workforce. Every time a parent has to leave work early to care for a child or take a day off due to school closures, it impacts the economy. "Conflicting school and work schedules cost the U.S. economy $55 billion in lost productivity each year, in large part due to parents (mostly women) who scale back employment and the lost productivity when parents have to take off work during school closures," The Atlantic writes.
Catherine Brown, an education-policy researcher at the Center for American Progress says that the solution lies somewhere between the schools and the community at large.
“Schools could partner with the community, and programs could come in and take some chunk of the day,” she said. She says she sees less of a 'before and after' care model and one that involves longer lunch breaks and longer recesses as well as staggered teacher start times to help make the school day longer and work for everyone.
While many balk at the idea of a longer school day for children, it's clear that more has to be done to provide affordable options for working parents to ensure young children aren't coming home to an empty house.