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Kamala Harris proposes a longer school day—without tormenting kids or exploiting teachers

November 7th, 2019 | Laura Clawson

Students leave school hours before their parents typically get home from work, creating a challenge for many parents and too often meaning kids are left alone. Sen. Kamala Harris wants to change that—but not by making teachers work longer, uncompensated hours, as all too many proponents of longer school days want.

Harris is proposing a pilot program to fund 500 schools serving low-income populations to figure out what works best to lengthen the school day from 8 AM all the way to 6 PM, without vacations beyond federal holidays. That shouldn’t mean students sitting still at their desks for developmentally inappropriate lengths of time. Rather, the schools should come up with “high-quality, culturally relevant, linguistically accessible, developmentally appropriate academic, athletic, or enrichment opportunities for students.” After five years, the Education Department would report on the best practices established during the pilot program and on its effects on parents, students, and teachers.

“The bill would also require the school to find a private or non-federal public funding source, such as state grants or philanthropy organizations, to match 10 percent of the federal grant money, a stipulation intended to help the programs remain sustainable after the initial grant money has run out,” Kara Voght reports at Mother Jones. “The matches can be money or an in-kind contribution in the form of volunteer staff time, meeting spaces, or equipment.”

This would have to be developed really, really carefully and thoughtfully, taking into account the needs of students and teachers. But it could mean moving beyond kids being cooped up except for painfully short recesses. It could mean adequate physical education and time for arts and music, rather than testing-based curricula squeezing everything else out. It could mean low-income kids getting the equivalent of high-quality afterschool programs that higher-income kids now have access to. It could mean teachers having prep time and time for grading built into their workday while students were in other activities.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, is optimistic. “This bill would enable school districts and communities to find solutions that work for them,” she said in a statement, while “teachers and paraprofessionals aren’t filling in the gaps without respect and fair compensation.”

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on November 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor

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