Since I’ve only ever taught high school, my knowledge of pre-K, elementary, and middle school programs has been quite limited.

Well, that’s all about to change, I guess.

Recently I was registering my daughter for the lottery-funded pre-K program that Georgia offers. Luckily, both schools in our attendance zone offer pre-K programs through the Bright from the Start program. We entered her into two lotteries – Cary Reynolds ES and Oakcliff ES – and anxiously awaited the results.

To our surprise (and financial relief!) our daughter was selected for both lotteries, and we were going to have a tough time deciding which elementary school to send her to.

But then our decision was made for us: Cary Reynolds did not offer after-school care and Oakcliff did. Before this, I don’t think that I realized that some elementary schools didn’t offer after-school childcare.

The Importance of After-School Childcare Programs

According to the After School Alliance, a non-profit “working to ensure that all children have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs,” over 19 million children have families that want after-school care (specifically from 3-6PM) but don’t have access to a program.

This seems like it should be a no-brainer. We need after-school programs so that people can work to provide for their families.

Both conservatives and liberals should agree that funding after-school programs is worth the investment. Children shouldn’t be spending hours at home unsupervised while their parents work, nor should parents feel that they can’t work due to a lack of after-school care.

Sadly, I have heard of people who have left their toddlers at home with their eight-year-old while they go out to work. I also know of teenagers who cannot participate in after-school activities such as sports or clubs because they have to go home to care for their younger siblings until their parents get home from work.

Sometimes I ask my students to stay after school for tutoring, and often the excuse is that they have to go home to take care of their siblings (and sometimes they just want to leave my class!).

Such simple ideas such as offering after-school childcare has far greater implications than one might think.

Take, for example, scholarships: I was reading through scholarship essays today, and although I knew this was the case with other readers, it was interesting to see how much more favorably I rated students based on their level of extracurricular involvement. In many cases, in schools with kids from lower income families, having teens fill the role of “free babysitter” robs teens not only of current opportunities, but future ones as well. This only further exacerbates the divide between those of the middle class and those who are working to reach that status.

Who Pays for This?

I’m not saying the programs should be free, but I am saying that after-school care should be provided for a fee based on a sliding scale for families’ income levels. (This may be where liberals and conservatives might disagree.)

Subsidies are available through CAPS (Childcare and Parent Services), a program of DFCS (Department of Family and Child Services). This is based on income, and qualified parents must be working or in school (and have lawful presence here in the U.S.) in order to receive this financial assistance. Families who qualify for this have to go through a process similar to applying for food stamps (SNAP).

(For the record: I certainly agree that there are many welfare programs that need to be changed or discarded, but the CAPS program, in my opinion, is one of the best federal programs for lower-income families because it incentivizes productive means of escaping poverty.)

Who Provides After-School Childcare?

Below is a list of all schools in DeKalb County School District (which I’m using simply because I live here) that offer after-school programs.

schools with aftercare

Tuition for DeKalb County School District After-School Childcare

Sometimes these programs are offered by the school, and teachers receive additional income for staying after normal school hours. There are also many other organizations that come into schools and provide after-school childcare (i.e. YMCA). The funding for this comes from private and public partnerships.

But federal subsidies for these kinds of programs might not be around for long.

After understanding a bit more about the importance of after-school programs, I hope that this issue can receive support from people all over the political spectrum, especially as President Trump proposes significant cuts to funding after-school programs.

Director of the Office of Budget Management Mick Mulvaney explains that after-school programs — by feeding kids and providing academic support — do not demonstrate that they have a positive effect on student achievement. And while many disagree with that statement, I would still like to point out that academic achievement should not be the only measure we use to assess whether or not these programs are worth funding.

As I stated before – children need to be taken care of during the hours after school, and for many working parents, this is a necessity in order to continue providing for their families.

Let’s make America great by ensuring that parents have affordable after-school childcare at every school. Instead of cutting back, now is the time to dedicate a combination of federal, state, and local dollars to these programs.