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Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), one of many candidates vying for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination, recently introduced a bill that would turn elementary schools in poor areas into “family friendly schools” that “collaborate with community partners 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.”
“My mother raised my sister and me while working demanding, long hours,” Harris has said. “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.”
On that point, Harris is correct. According to MarketWatch, in 2017 a married couple making the national median income of $87,757 would have to devote more than 10 percent of their income for child care. For single parents, the necessary share of income devoted to child care can rise to nearly 40 percent.
Even more mind-boggling, “In every region, child-care costs are roughly double the price of a year’s tuition to an in-state public university,” notes MarketWatch.
From a free-market perspective, it’s easy to guess why child care costs are skyrocketing. Over the years, the demand for child care has increased dramatically. For nearly two-thirds of families with children, both parents are employed, notes the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1970, both parents were employed in just 31 percent of such families.
In other words, 50 years ago, seven in 10 children in two-parent households had one parent at home. In 2019, just three in 10 children in two-parent households have a parent at-home to tend to their needs.
Making matters worse, the two-parent household is in a state of abject free fall. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 1960 and 2016, the share of children living in two-parent families declined from 88 percent to 69 percent.
Unfortunately, the decline of the nuclear family has reached epidemic levels among blacks (77 percent) and Hispanics (57 percent). For comparison, 30 percent of white children and 27 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander children are born out of wedlock, respectively.
Although Harris is spot-on in her assertion that child care costs are a relevant issue, her proposed solution is off target.
Harris seems to be saying that government (under the guise of public schools) should simply replace the family. As a former public school teacher, I believe this is the wrong approach.
First, public schools are woefully inept and incapable of educating and keeping America’s children safe. This is not a knock against public education. But is it wise to vastly increase the role and influence of a failing institution?
Second, Harris’ plan would add billions to education costs. How would those costs be covered? If you guessed more local taxes and fees, bingo.
Third, public schools already provide more than enough social services. In 2018, the federal government spent a whopping $13 billion providing 29.8 million students with free and reduced lunches. The same year, the national government spent $4.4 billion serving about 15 million students free or reduced breakfasts.
If Harris gets her wish, you can add dinner to the school menu. But this is not the crux of the problem. Children should eat most meals at home with their families. In fact, children should spend lots of time at home with their families. Public schools should never and can never replace the family.
Families provide values, love, support, discipline and many other benefits. In general, public schools are incapable of instilling and cultivating these bedrock cultural norms. If passed, Harris’ so-called Family Friendly Schools Act would do irreparable harm to an already failing institution: the sacred American family.
[Originally Published at The Hill]