Child care costs continue to increase

According to a report released August 24 by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), the cost of child care continues to increase  while families struggle to afford quality care. Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2011 Update provides results from a survey of Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) State Networks and local agencies, which asked for the average fees charged by child care programs in 2010.

The report, which provides the average cost of child care for infants, four-year-olds, and school-age children in centers and family child care homes nationwide, reveals that in 36 states, the average annual cost for center-based care for an infant was higher than a year’s tuition and related fees at a four-year public college. In every state, center-based child care costs for two children (an infant and a four-year-old) exceeded annual average rent payments.

“Child care is essential to working families and working families are key to economic growth,” said Linda K. Smith, NACCRRA’s Executive Director. “But, child care today is simply unaffordable for most families.”

According to the report, in 2010, in Virginia the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in a center is $8,800, for a four-year-old the cost is $6,650, and for a school-age child it is $5,600. Fairfax County, which has higher costs than the state average, makes the cost of day-care for school-age children even more burdensome by dismissing  students in elementary schools school two hours early every Monday. Arlington County dismisses 12 of its elementary schools two hours early on Wednesdays, another burden on many parents.

The report states that the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in a center ranged from $4,650 in Mississippi to $18,200 a year in the District of Columbia. Parents of a four-year-old child paid average fees of $3,900 in Mississippi to $14,050 a year in the District of Columbia. In New York, parents of school-age children paid up to $10,400 a year for part-time care in a center. The report also found that in 2010, the average annual cost of full-time care in a family child care home was as much as $12,100 for an infant and $11,300 for a four-year-old in Massachusetts. Read the rest of this entry »


Child care to be offered during early dismissals

Reacting to complaints from parents about the new policy of dismissing students an hour early every Monday, the board of education (BOE) in Windsor Locks recently voted to use paraprofessionals to provide one hour of child care for younger students affected by early dismissals.

Gregory A. Scibelli of Reminder News reported  that a protocol for parents wanting to have their children supervised at school is pending. School began August 29 in this Connecticut school district. BOE Chairman Patricia King said that parents will be responsible for transportation home at the end of the hour.

Superintendent Wayne C. Sweeney had written a letter to parents in June announcing his decision to dismiss students one hour early each Monday in the 2011-2012  school year so that teachers would have Professional Learning Community (PLC) time.


Students need more time in school!

Shortchanged by the Bell  is a must-read op-ed in today’s New York Times.  Luis A. Ubiñas, the president of the Ford Foundation, and Chris Gabarieli, the chairman of the National Center on Time and Learning, said that our school calendar, with its six-and-a-half-hour day and 180–day year, was designed for yesterday’s farm economy, not today’s high-tech one.

They note that some districts have even shorter hours. They didn’t include mention of Fairfax County’s inadequate elementary school schedule–averaged over a 5-day week, the time amounts to a paltry 6 hours and 10 minutes per day. This is the problem. What is the plan for reform?

Citizens of Fairfax, be sure to ask all the school board candidates whether they want to maintain this inadequate schedule or to make plans to give students more time in school. It is time for Fairfax County to stop dismissing elementary school students two hours early every Monday.  Ending early dismissals should be a key issue in the school board elections in November.


Let students at Woodlawn and Bucknell have full days on Mondays

Holly Hobbs of the Fairfax Times wrote an excellent summary of the school progress ratings that were released this morning: Fairfax County and most state school systems fail to meet AYP.

“Two schools, Woodlawn and Bucknell elementary schools in Alexandria, were called on to allow students to attend other schools because of their AYP results this year and in previous years.”

Last year the Fairfax County school board made a serious mistake in taking time in school AWAY from students in some of the neediest schools in the county, including Woodlawn and Bucknell. This is unjust. Students in these two schools should not be sent home two hours early every Monday.   In May 2010 the Fairfax County School Board voted to end a program that gave 16 schools the ability to allow students to stay in school for a full day on Mondays. Since 1999 students in these 16 schools were allowed to have a full day in class on Mondays while the other elementary schools were dismissed two hours early.

There are a wide variety of ways to plan to allow for full days five days a week for all schools. The Fairfax County school board should begin making plans to implement this reform in time for the 2012-2013 school year for ALL elementary schools. In the meantime, students at Bucknell and Woodlawn should be given relief from the Monday early dismissal policy in time for the beginning of school in September.


League of Women Voters advocates 20-minute recess periods

Elizabeth Bradsher, Tessie Wilson, Jim Raney, Tina Hone, and Brad Center listen to Helen Kelly

On July 28 Helen Kelly told the Fairfax County school board that the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area (LWVFA) supports a 20-minute daily recess period for elementary school students. Kelly, the League’s action director, referred to the annual report that the School Health Advisory Committee presented to the school board June 8.

“In its most recent Executive Summary Report, the School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) recommended that schools specify a minimum daily recess period and insist that children cannot miss recess for failure to complete class assignments or for disciplinary reasons,” Kelly said. She also noted that The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends that the minimum daily recess period should be at least 20 minutes in length.

“The League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area supports both SHAC and NASPE in their recommendations,” Kelly said. “We believe that all elementary students should participate in a daily recess period lasting at least 20 minutes.”

“While it is important in reversing the epidemic of childhood obesity, exercise is not the only benefit students can gain from recess,” she said. “According to NASPE, besides offering students the opportunity to engage in physical activity, recess also allows them ‘to practice life skills such as cooperation, taking turns, following rules, sharing, communication, negotiation, problem solving and conflict resolution.’”

“We calculate that in order to have enough time to allow 20 minutes of recess per day, the overall amount of time the children spend in school would need to be increased by 50 minutes per week.” Kelly said. “Because of the many advantages it offers our students, we urge you to adopt the 20-minute minimum daily recess period for the 2012-2013 school year.”

SHAC also made recommendations regarding recess in it 2007 annual report, stating that recess should to be least 20 minutes per day with the exception of short Mondays. The staff responded in November 2007 that 10 minutes is all the time that is available for recess while still meeting the requirement for 990 hours of instruction annually. “By setting recess at 20 minutes, it would be necessary to extend the school day, or create a uniform weekly schedule,” the staff said.


Students still need to spend time in school buildings!

Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale will lead the school board members in a discussion about the future of education at a meeting this Friday. He says:

So, do you think we should design a new educational model? Perhaps a model based on creating… perhaps without the constraints of time, particularly time in a brick building… perhaps available 24/7/365 … perhaps one where technology can replace the routine, static portions of our current education system and where advanced thinking, and team learning becomes the purpose for the ‘public’ portion of our education system. (Or, perhaps this still is too constrained …. after all I am a digital immigrant!)

I think we need to challenge ourselves to design a new system and design it at perhaps 70% – 80% of the cost of the current system. (I think resource constraints will continue to be a major issue for us for decades to come. I also look at the current outsourcing that is occurring, and the substantially lower costs for that outsourcing!)

Students still need time inside a brick building! In fact, they could use MORE time, not less time, in the building (and on the playground).  Latchkey children can cope on their own for a certain amount of time, but too much time alone, even with computers, books, etc., is not good for these students, particularity elementary school students. With all the excitement about technology and advances in curriculum, let’s not forget that  many children in Fairfax County spend  a certain number of hours home alone or with siblings without the benefit of direct adult supervision.This is particularly true on Monday afternoons. While Dr. Dale is challenging himself and others to design a new system, let’s hope this design includes five full days in school each week for all students.

In addition to considering the time some children spend alone, we need to consider the additional costs parents would have if they needed to pay for additional daycare or if they needed to reduce their work hours.  I applaud Dr. Dale’s interest in cutting costs, but these savings should come within the school day for students, not by shortening the time students have in school.

New ways of arranging responsibilities within the school day could include different types of outsourcing, as Dr. Dale suggests. For example, some school districts are using outside companies to provide recess monitors. Perhaps Fairfax County could consider this option.


Superintendent takes time away from students; parents in Connecticut district protest

Last month Wayne C. Sweeney, superintendent of Windsor Locks Public Schools, wrote a letter to parents announcing his decision to dismiss students one hour early each Monday in the 2011-2012  school year so that teachers would have Professional Learning Community (PLC) time.  After receiving this letter sent home with their children on the last day of school, several parents spoke at the June 23 school board meeting to protest the decision and the way it was made without consulting parents.

According to the meeting minutes, Amy Mackey asked why parents were not notified or included in this decision by way of a public forum so questions could be asked and opinions could be heard.  Kevin Brace discussed the economic effect this will have on parents. He said his employer is not going to be willing for him to leave early every Monday to retrieve his children from the school bus. Jennifer Webb said she was appalled that she received the letter about this new policy on the last day of school.  Andra Morrell and Mary Ellen Smith pointed out that other districts have PLC time before and after school so students will not lose any time.

Jason Harris of the Windsor Locks-East Windsor Patch reported that parents had another opportunity to criticize this decision at the July 14 school board meeting.

Parent Douglas Hamilton said that Windsor Locks ranks 146th out of 161 school districts in the state. He said that the cutting back on the number of interactive hours between students and teachers is “heading in the wrong direction.”

“Can our children really afford to lose those 33 hours of instruction?” parent Jennifer Webb said. “The assessment data is telling us no,” she added.

I posted a comment stating that parents deserve a voice in important decisions regarding school hours.