Thousands of low-income families face paying more for child care if the Wake County school system switches nine elementary schools to a year-round calendar.
Wake school administrators say students will benefit from taking classes during part of the periodic breaks in the year-round calendar and that the schedule will reduce summer learning loss. But child care costs during the breaks in the year-round calendar are typically higher than the choices available to families during breaks at traditional-calendar schools.
Most students attend schools on the traditional calendar, so summer child care programs are not only more plentiful but also are more likely to be subsidized to keep costs affordable. Parents at the less numerous year-round schools face obstacles of fewer options with larger price tags.
For instance, the city of Raleigh offers summer programs for as little as $26 per week. That compares with $160 a week for “track-out” programs for students on break from year-round schools.
Before the calendar change is approved, the school board wants its staff to report back next week on what child care options would be available. The issue of affordable child care is more acute because 5,153 students attend the nine schools, all of which have high percentages of students from low-income families.
“If Wake County is going to enforce this on the high-poverty schools, they’re going to have to figure out something,” said Lia McNeilly, PTA president of Brentwood Elementary in Raleigh, one of the schools that could change calendars. “They’re going to have to let people leave – which will distribute the poverty around – or they’re going to have to work to find a way to make it more affordable.”
Under the plan, the traditional-calendar elementary schools to be converted are Brentwood, Bugg, Fox Road, Lynn Road and Walnut Creek in Raleigh; Creech Road, East Garner and Smith in Garner; and Lincoln Heights Elementary in Fuquay-Varina.
Those nine schools along with three existing year-round elementary schools – Barwell Road and Wilburn in Raleigh and Hodge Road in Knightdale – would be put on the Track 4year-round calendar. On that schedule, classes typically start in late July and run to late June. Students in traditional-calendar schools attend from late August to early June.
All 12 schools are part of the system’s Elementary Support Model program, which provides help to schools with low test scores.
Traditional-calendar schools have summer breaks that last as long as 11 weeks. But at track four year-round schools, three-week breaks are built in after every nine weeks of classes, with summer vacation reduced to one month.
Historically, low-income families have been reluctant to attend year-round schools. The percentage of low-income students at year-round schools remained low until Wake began busing kids in during the 2000s and converted 22 traditional-calendar schools to year-round in 2007.
Tammy Jahad, principal of Barwell Road Elementary School, told school board members that parents will adapt to the year-round schedule.
“Our parents care, just like most parents do, about how our students do,” Jahad said. “When you present them with the option that, ‘This is what’s best for kids, and this is going to help you and here is a viable way to do that,’ they work through it.”
But child care remains a major concern. One issue is that older siblings at traditional-calendar high schools and middle schools are no longer available to watch younger siblings who are on break from year-round schools.
“The reality still remains that what we hear from some of these families is that it’s free in the summer for their older brother to watch them,” said school board member Susan Evans. “It’s not free for them to go to trackout camps.”
James Overman, area superintendent for elementary support, told school board members this week that staff would reach out to groups such as the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club about serving students at the 12 schools.
The YMCA of the Triangle is the largest provider of track-out programs in Wake County, serving 5,000 year-round students annually. Jennifer Nelson, a spokeswoman for the YMCA, said the organization will see what it can do to help the district.
“We want to serve families,” Nelson said. “We’ve supported families for more than 30 years and want to do so in the future.”
YMCA track-out programs are not cheap. The cost is $179 per week for members and $214 per week for non members. Financial assistance is available, but the YMCA warns that funds are limited.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Wake County provides summer programs to students, including at some of the schools facing conversion, for the annual membership fee of $7.50 per family. But Hugh McLean, the group’s vice president of operations, said the clubs don’t provide track-out programs because they’re geared to serving traditional-calendar schools.
McLean said the organization would consider providing track-out programs if asked by Wake. But it would cost the nonprofit group extra money to open the clubs in the mornings when the year-round schools are on break, he said.
Another option could be the city of Raleigh, where Ken Hisler, the recreation superintendent, said officials will watch what the school system is doing. But he said it would require more city funding to make track-out programs as affordable as the summer programs.
“If you’re going to offer a lower fee program and the costs are not going to be recovered by that fee, someone is going to have to absorb that cost,” Hisler said.
Another possibility school administrators are exploring is whether individual schools would offer child care during the breaks.
The school district needs to find a way so that finances don’t become a barrier for making the calendar switch, said school board member Keith Sutton.
“Don’t let the issue of how I pay for child care or finances be an impediment to making a decision that I know is the best for my child, that gives my child the best opportunity to learn and to be successful,” Sutton said.