Like most parents, every night, my husband and I worry about the logistics surrounding our two daughters' activities the next day. What will they do after school? Do they need rides to or from an activity, or a friend's house? What time will each of us get home from work? Who will help with homework? Do we have supervision in place to cover any gaps in care?
Our daughters' safety, happiness and personal growth is always on our minds, and that's as it should be. We want them to participate in activities like sports, music, art and theater that excite and engage them after the school day ends. We want them to be with caring, competent adults when they are not with us.
We know that, compared to a lot of parents, we are very lucky. While my husband and I both work outside the home, we have access to quality afterschool programs in our schools, our jobs offer some flexibility, and my parents live nearby and can help out in a crisis.
Many parents don't have any of those advantages. For them, finding care for kids each afternoon is an enormous challenge - and it may become even harder.
That's because, at a time when more than 14 million children in this country are already unsupervised after the school day ends, home alone or on the streets at risk for all kinds of trouble, the federal investment in afterschool programs may go down instead of up next year. That's what President Bush wants to do, and what Congress will soon have to decide.
In addition to slashing the federal afterschool budget, the President proposes to turn the federal afterschool initiative, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, into a risky and unreliable voucher scheme. That would mean parents with vouchers and no place to use them, programs closing, and even more families without the afterschool programs they need.
That's why the organization I lead, the Afterschool Alliance, is joining with MomsRising and education, children's, civil rights and youth serving organizations across the country to fight this cut. We're organizing a national call-in this week, and asking Congress to reject the president's proposal. We're reminding members of Congress that afterschool programs matter to their constituents because they keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, and help working families.
There are quality afterschool programs in big cities like New York, Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco, smaller communities like Morgantown, West Virginia and Pocatello, Idaho [PDF], and every place in between. These programs provide role models, mentors and tutors to help with academics and homework. In addition, every day, these programs help students explore nature, build robots, study other cultures, and find activities they really care about. They show them how to clean up parks, help the homeless, and make a difference in their communities. They help them envision a better future.
We need to support and expand afterschool programs, so quality, affordable programs are available to every student and family. We're far from that goal today, and millions of kids are at risk as a result.
Most schools in this country close at 2 or 3 PM. Most parents finish work at 5 or 6 PM. That's a recipe for problems, but for this there is a solution. When we invest in quality afterschool programs, we invest in our future.
A Peaceful Revolution is a weekly blog about work/life satisfaction done in collaboration with MomsRising.org. Read a post by a leading thinker in the field every week.