Our local government is failing our children. In the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis, where families are doing all they can to cope with our “new normal,” local governments and school districts in San Diego have not done all they can to help.
With the majority of local schools closed to in-person learning, and parents being stretched between overseeing their children’s distance learning and their responsibilities at work, the city and the county have the opportunity to provide public spaces as a solution to hundreds of families by allowing parks and/or libraries to be used as learning hubs.
And while there are people at the city and county working to get to yes, ultimately bureaucratic red tape has stifled innovation, leaving vulnerable families to fend for themselves through the online education conundrum.
And so now that the dozens of parks and libraries in San Diego are off the table, we the community must pick up the mantle.
Remember, with the snap of a finger, streets were closed to automobile traffic to allow people to get outside more safely. With a simple executive action, restaurants were allowed to put up tables in parking lots and on sidewalks to accommodate more outdoor dining. But what seems to have been forgotten is that restaurant employees still have child care challenges.
Nationally, 75 percent of working parents have a child at home with them during the work day. And one in four employers believes that some of their employees will leave the workforce entirely. Those numbers are devastating to the economy.
Yet giving children a safe place to do their schoolwork and giving parents a little peace of mind was too tall an order. And too short-sighted.
Using public spaces as learning hubs is not an unprecedented feat. San Francisco, Los Angeles and even San Marcos have already done this, helping thousands of school-aged children in their regions to have supervision while they go about their school days online. Giving parents the freedom to go to work, even if they telecommute, rather than also having to oversee their kids’ school day, is what will get businesses going again, and get our economy back on track.
To be clear, we’re not letting school districts off the hook. The ideal situation is to open schools in a safe way so that parents can feel comfortable sending their kids to campus. But until that happens, we need innovative solutions to this problem. Learning hubs is one such solution. These are not a replacement for teachers and classrooms. They are small pods of no more than 14 children, per CDC guidelines, supervised by a licensed professional, who helps make sure the kids are logged into their classes on time, get appropriate breaks with outdoor time, and get the academic support they might need.
While some families can afford to create learning pods with other families in their neighborhoods, this was an opportunity to help those with fewer resources, who are certainly being left behind academically.
So what can be done? On-site learning hubs in the short term, and significant support for child care in the long term are what it is going to take for businesses and our economy to get back on track.
Millennials make up 39 percent of San Diego’s workforce. They are also the generation currently with small children. With more millennials in the workforce than any of our competitor metropolitan areas, San Diego has an unprecedented opportunity to redefine the region as a world-class place to work.
Yet only 9 percent of San Diego companies currently provide some sort of on-site child care. Twenty percent provide some form of financial assistance for child care. We must do better.
While businesses know how crucial this is to mitigate losses in productivity and turnover, there are still costs that must be expended to make a meaningful difference. So state and local government can still help by offering tax credits, grants and expedited permits for businesses that provide these resources for their employees.
These types of incentives would provide employees with child care solutions, and at the same time provide job opportunities for those in the child care industry, who also have been devastated by the pandemic. It’s a win for the business, a win for the employee, a win for the child care provider and a win for our economy. And most important, it’s a win for our kids.
Chris Cate is a San Diego city councilman representing District 6. Alessandra Lezama is CEO of TOOTRiS.