[Editor’s Note: Our first priority at WeAreTeachers is to share content that matters to (you guessed it!) teachers. With the 2020 election on the horizon, we are committed to continuing to do just that. We do not endorse any political parties or candidates. We simply are here to help share stories and advocate for educators.]

It’s a tough time to be a teacher. We talk about it a lot. The hours are long. The budgets are small. The class sizes are on the incline. And support is on the decline. In fact, according to the Educator Confidence Index from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMHC), teacher optimism has dipped dramatically, from 50% in 2018 to 34% in 2019. 

This is the part of the article where we send you a virtual hug and remind you that you are doing important work. ❤️

Last week, presidential hopeful Senator Kamela Harris announced her Family Friendly Schools Act in a tweet.

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Her proposal is to extend the school day by awarding five-year grants of up to $5 million to select school districts in an effort 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.”

 

What does this really mean?

Long story short, Senator Harris wants to give 500 schools grants to keep their doors open from 8 am to 6 pm. 

Now before your jaw hits the floor (because how could you possibly ask more from already overworked teachers!), let us clarify a few important points: 

  • Teachers would not increase their hours unless they volunteer or receive additional pay.
  • Each school would receive up to $5 million dollars in the form of a grant and would work with parents, teachers, and community members to determine how to best extend the school day to meet the needs of their school population. 
  • Schools will need to find private or non-federal public organizations to match 10% of the grant money. This stipulation is to help school programs become sustainable. Matches could be monetary or they can be in-kind, such as volunteer time from staff, resources, equipment, or meeting spaces. 
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“This bill would enable school districts and communities to find solutions that work for them,” said Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers. “[The bill] would make sure teachers and paraprofessionals aren’t filling in the gaps without respect and fair compensation.”

In Favor of the Family Friendly Schools Act

We asked a few teachers in our WeAreTeachers Helpline Facebook group to weigh in on how they feel about the proposal.

Kara Colston is a teacher at House Creek Elementary, a Title 1 school in Coppras Cove, Texas. She’s been teaching for seven years.

“I think the proposal could be very beneficial for any schools that don’t have or have the funding for after school and summer programs,” said Colston. “There are so many low-income families that struggle with childcare after school.”

Colston goes on to suggest that many teachers’ negative reactions may be misinformed.

“People are only reading the headlines,” says Colston. “What they don’t realize is the grant is only available for 500 schools, these schools identified don’t already have after school programs available, and workers after normal hours would be compensated.”

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Colston adds one last perspective on the proposal. “I’ve seen some people argue that their parents made it work and were low-income, but I hate that argument. Just because someone struggled doesn’t mean we should make others struggle.” 

Opposition to the Family Friendly Schools Act

Not all teachers are as enthusiastic as Colston is about the Family Friendly Schools Act.
It sounds good in theory, but it doesn’t always work,” said Janet Mitchell, a special education teacher from Newark, New York.
Mitchell has worked in schools with similar after-school programs, and says there were issues. 
“Kids are at school too long. If they are bussed they might not get home until 7 pm,” pointed out Mitchell. “Will it include a meal? It’s dinner time before the program is over.” 
Mitchell also wonders who exactly will be staffing these after-school programs.
“The people that they hire will not get teacher pay,” Mitchell speculated. “If I am expected to teach for another 2 1/2 hours, you had better believe that is what I would expect,”
And what about the administrators?
Are administrators willing to stick around until 6 pm when all the kids have been picked up?” questioned Mitchell. 

The Gist

So here’s what it boils down to: Teachers are tired. Administrators are tired. Parents are tired. Students are tired. It’s all hard.

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But you know what? Questions are being asked. Proposals are being written. Conversations are happening. People are noticing. And that feels good. And just maybe if we all work together, it will lead to positive change.