Vela, others introduce Family Friendly Schools Act

Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith moderates a discussion with U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. Vela, D-Brownsville, has represented Texas’ Congressional District 34 since 2013. In the 114th Congress, he sat on the House Agriculture and Homeland Security committees and served as co-chairman of the Congressional Border Caucus. Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela and Joe Morelle announced The Family Friendly Schools Act, legislation they introduced in the House of Representatives to examine how we can better align students’ schedules with that of their parent or guardian to improve educational and social outcomes, particularly for low-income families. Senator Kamala Harris has introduced the same legislation as a companion bill in the United States Senate.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the way we work, how our children go to school and the time we spend at home with our families. Working families of color have been particularly affected by the instability and strain that the COVID-19 crisis has caused in our daily lives, said Congressman Filemon Vela. “I am proud to join Congressman Morelle and Senator Harris in introducing this transformative and important piece of legislation aimed at improving the lives of working parents and families.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated our childcare crisis, underscoring the need for transformative changes to our educational system that put families first and help children succeed,” said Congressman Joe Morelle. “The inconsistences between the school day and the work day often force a parent or guardian into a financially burdensome decision: paying for childcare or cutting hours at work—choices that are particularly difficult for low-income families and hourly workers. I’m proud to introduce this common-sense legislation to help ensure every student and their family has the opportunity to thrive.”

“As we recover from this pandemic, we must look for opportunities to redesign our institutions and ensure they work for working families,” added Congressman Morelle. “I’m grateful for the partnership of Senator Harris, Representative Vela, and our many colleagues as we work to advance this important legislation.”

Throughout the United States, the average school day ends around 3 p.m., well short of the traditional business day at 5 p.m. This means that if a parent or guardian leaves work two hours early five days per week to either pick their child up, or be home when their child gets off the bus, they are potentially forgoing 40 hours of pay – or roughly 25 percent of their monthly income. Especially for low-income families and families in poverty, that can be the difference between putting food on the table, paying the heating bill, or making that month’s rent—all factors that contribute to the overall learning environment of their child.

The Family Friendly Schools Act would fund a pilot program, creating 500 “Family Friendly Schools” that align the school day with the workday to better support working families, and disseminate the lessons learned from these model schools to communities throughout the nation. It would also provide a much-needed funding increase for 21st Century Community Learning Centers to expand access to summer learning opportunities.

More specifically, the program would award five-year grants of up to $5 million total to school districts to transform elementary schools serving a high number of low-income families into “Family Friendly Schools.”

At the end of the five-year grant period, the Department of Education will publish and disseminate a report on lessons learned from the pilot schools, including:

Approaches taken by Family Friendly Schools to align school and work schedules;
Survey results on parent, teacher, student, school administrator, and community organization satisfaction with Family Friendly Schools;
Changes in parental employment rates, student performance, and teacher retention at each Family Friendly School; and
Best practices and recommendations for aligning school and work schedules, aligning school schedules and calendars among schools and school districts, and engaging parents and families.