Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Good Question.

Mark Thoma asks a good question: why don't schools stay open from 7AM-6PM? He's not advocating a longer school day. He's merely wondering why after-school day care isn't provided at schools? The current system is massively inefficient:
During the school year, we have one set of child care buildings in the private sector that sit there mostly empty doing nothing all day but waiting for school to get out. Some do run before school care programs in the mornings and pre-school kids fill some of the space during the school day, but they are still largely below capacity. Somewhere else there is another set of buildings run by the government, the schools, overflowing with kids.

Then, at 2:30 and 3:30 each Monday through Friday there is a massive transfer of kids from one set of buildings, the schools, to the child care facilities in the private sector. Cars, small buses with names like Kindercare, La Petite Academy, and Krayola Kids on the sides all line up, pick up the kids, then crowd the roads all over town as they move the kids from one place to another in a brief flurry of activity. The opportunity cost of those buildings, vehicles, and the people who run the private day care centers are sufficiently high so as to make private care expensive for the typical family. The schools have a few after school care programs in gyms, etc., but mostly they sit empty once the school day ends.

In summer it's pretty much the same without the daily transfer. For several months, the school buildings sit there doing little, they handle some summer school, sports, etc., but mostly they are pretty empty while the private sector buildings are full.

So here's a question for my school board member father and child care provider sister? Why aren't school district facilities available for after school (and in-service day and summer, and ...) child care?

Prof. Thoma thinks this service should be free, but, given that it is not free to provide, I am not sure I agree with that. However, given that schools can conceivably provide better facilities (playgrounds, gyms, libraries, kitchens) at essentially no cost, why not go into this business? You merely have to charge enough to pay for teachers, supplies (which you can buy in bulk), and administrative costs and you can provide an experience that is likely better than most after-school centers at a fraction of the cost. (Plus, the district probably ends up saving money on school buses because fewer children need to ride the bus.)

Many people advocate for child care subsidies, why not provide them at no additional cost to taxpayers simply by getting more out of capital that's already paid for. This seems like too good of a deal to pass up.

You could make an argument that it should be "free" in the sense that public schooling is free (i.e. paid for by local taxation).

That, of course, means that those without attending children subsidize the costs of those with attending children, as with public school. And while the externalities that associated with sending kids to school (which might rationalize having everyone pay taxes that pay for school) are certainly larger than they would be for a "free" day care program, there are surely positive externalities to be had by getting kids in day care, rather than on the streets.

I'm not sure it should be free, mind you, but it seems like it might make sense.
I waffle on this. On the one hand, I think you are correct that the "free" child care may improve efficiency (and certainly could help improve equity). On the other, it is pretty marginal. And I worry that political costs (costs of fighting about funding this program, etc.) might make the whole thing negative. So I guess, in places where there are big equity gains (that push us further from the margin) I would likely support "free" child care. Otherwise, I'd make people pay for use (but hopefully keep it inexpensive).
Actually Richard - Public education doesn't need another mandate without adequate funding. The feds already want to expand the free and reduced lunch program to include three meals a day 365 days a year. A question to ponder - if a parent can have his child eat 3 meals a day 365 days a year from age 5 through high school graduation is that person really a parent? A bigger issue is that summer programs are the relm of nonprofits. These programs such as YMCA and Boys and Girls Club have the opportunity to employ high school and college age councilors and staff at a rate cheaper than a school district. This is because school district employees have associated costs higher than nonprofits. In Eugene, they have set up their child development department to use school facilities and high school students as the majority of staff year round. The structure is like a nonprofit within a school. Several of our schools provide buildings after school for the YMCA to staff child care and we provide buses to take children to the Boys and Girls Club. The issue is huge across the country. Each community needs to create effective partnerships between schools, city rec. and nonprofits to meet the needs.
A) Certainly, I am not advocating that school districts be forced to provide child care without additional funding. That's why I some sort of cheap pay by the hour system.

B) The fact that it would cost the school district more to hire people than other non-profits shouldn't be percived as a large barrier. First, the fact that someone else can has lower costs suggests that the problem is regulatory and thus reversable with sufficient will. Second, I have no problem with a system in which the non-profits "rent" the school's capital.

I just think that the capital should be more efficiently employed that it currently is. While the new Boys and Girls Club in Grants Pass (my hometown) is great, it is hard to see why it needed to be built. It essentially duplicates facilities that are available at each of the schools. It would have been much more efficient to take the staff from the Boys and Girls Club and have them drive to the schools to provide programs. Save the money that was spent on their facility, save the resources spent busing kids from all over town there (and the resources spent by parents picking the kids up and then driving them back home) and use it for something else.
I'll jump back in and say that when I was in college, I worked in before and after school care at the Y. We worked from 7am to 9am and from 3pm to 6pm, at one of the local elementary schools, so kids at the school had their child care "on location."

There was, of course, another elementary school in the district (maybe two other schools?) and kids there were bused back and forth.
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