I recently received this note from a constituent. I think it addresses an issue that many other constituents in many communities are concerned about — after school care. I’ve posted it with her permission, having eliminated some personal identifying information.
I’m taking you quite literally that you want to know what’s on my mind. And for quite some time it has been the insane incompatibility of working hours with child care coverage for elementary school children. . . . I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and talking on this topic, including with the school principal and the town superintendent. There are two glaring problems.
One, is well-known and it’s cost. It costs me more to get part-time coverage outside of school hours, on vacations and for the summer for my two elementary school kids than it does for me to pay for all day care for my three year old (also at a nonprofit). There is no doubt in my mind that if parents of children this age had more time to do anything there would a major lobby. It’s certainly a feminist issue (I really can’t be effective at work if I don’t have not only adequate childcare but also happy kids) but it’s also a major economic issue. This is clearly a nationwide conversation that needs to happen, but if Massachusetts could lead the way on healthcare…. (One example of something driving up the costs to families, the town of Belmont charges the afterschool programs to use the school classrooms for the care of exclusively belmont residents. So even though as a tax payer, I have already paid for the schools, I pay again to use them afterschool. I get why this makes sense/is fair in the current version of budgets because more use is more wear and tear and it is a subset of kids, but I think we need to make a societal commitment to the kids that we take care of them after 3pm as well as before because that is the true cost of education.)
The second issue is availability. In Belmont there are significant capacity problems and I know anecdotally that we are not the only town with such problems. The schools don’t have the space to get licensed to have bigger after school programs. And I think a big issue is that every school district is re-inventing the wheel on this rather than having any centralized resources. And as Superintendent Phelan told me in Belmont, his only priority is the school day until 3. If he can help with anything outside of that he will but it’s not going to be a priority. So it doesn’t matter how many kids are on the waitlist for after school care at any school, that won’t weigh into class distribution questions or busing considerations. Why can’t we get economies of scale from dealing with this on a statewide level? By having funds for busing kids to schools with more space afterschool, or senior centers or other such places with room? But also, why can’t we think about adjusting the schedule and calendar to be most effective for covering childcare. (I know there are a lot of debates about the health of high schoolers – this is so compatible with that because I wouldn’t need an hour of before care if school started an hour earlier for the elementary school kids.) Having one day a week where school ends early and having elementary schools start at 8:45 or 8:50 does not match any job I know of. (Having the school year start on a Wednesday so there is not even a camp to send them to for Monday and Tuesday, is a particular Belmont source of insanity.) There are many other missed opportunities to organize better if this was the community’s problem rather than each individual family’s.
I could go on and on about all the ways in which the current system is broken and it causes ANGUISH in the affluent community of Belmont. I doubt I need to point out how much worse it is in less privileged communities where one cannot simply take out a home equity loan to cover extra expenses and where parents don’t have the knowledge or opportunity to tap into quality private babysitters to bridge gaps.
So please, if you would like to pursue anything on this topic legislatively let me know. I would volunteer to help you in any way I can with research or otherwise.
I replied as follows:
I tried to help stabilize the after school program at Burbank some years ago when I was first a selectman, so I know what some of the challenges are in operating those programs. And I also have a sense of the need and the value.
We could do more in this space and there is a lot of conversation about it — tends to focus on the pre-school population, but the after-school population is a fair extension of the dialog.
As always, the main issue is money. The legislature has approved a ballot question for 2018 which would raise about $2 billion for education and transportation (only allowed purposes) by adding a surtax on incomes over $1million. Read more at this link.
If we can get that approved, it will help both the local schools and early education programming. I would be happy to work with you when the money is there to try to put some towards afterschool programming.
I’m not sure there is much that is real that I can do before that.
I’d welcome more discussion of the issue here.