Few South Bay parents are taking advantage of a new state law that allows them to enroll their children in school districts where they work instead of where they live, school administrators say.
But the officials expect interest to pick up as the new law, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, becomes better known and more working parents start looking into the potential advantages of being able to place their children in schools closer to where they work.
Parents familiar with the new law, which took effect Jan. 1, also may be reluctant to move their children in the middle of the school year, so the full effect of the measure may not be known until next fall, administrators say.
Help for 'Latchkey Kids'
The author of the measure (AB 2071), Orange County Assemblywoman Doris Allen (R-Cypress), said it is aimed primarily at the problem of "latchkey kids"--children of working parents who are left to take care of themselves before and after school.
"We wanted to give parents this additional option in dealing with their child-care problems," Allen said. "Parents also like to have their children closer to them during the work day, in case a problem or emergency arises. "And during the ride to and from work, the parents will have an opportunity to spend quality time with their children, helping them with their school lessons and building their relationship."
Allen conceded that her law does not address the "tremendous problem" of inadequate child care, but said she hopes employers will be encouraged to provide such facilities when children of their workers are, as it were, deposited on their doorsteps. The law applies only to children in kindergarten through eighth grade.
At first glance, Allen's law also could have a profound impact on the fortunes of various districts, boosting the enrollment of some and depleting the student populations of others.
But despite some early apprehensions--or perhaps anticipations in the case of declining-enrollment districts that could use some extra students--school officials now generally agree that the new law will not stimulate any major migrations. That's because use of the law is largely voluntary, said Phil Kauble, a chief consultant in the county superintendent's office.
Kauble said a district cannot be forced to accept children of non-resident working parents if the added costs are not covered adequately by increased state aid, or if a few more students would make class sizes too big. Or for almost any other reason, as long as it's not based on a racial, ethnic, sexual or other legally impermissible forms of discrimination.
Districts asked to give up students have less leeway in refusing transfer requests, Kauble said, but the law allows them to limit their losses--5% for small systems to 1% for districts with 2,500 or more students.
"At this point, we don't know how well the new law will work," Kauble said. "It will be closely monitored to see if follow-up legislation is needed to iron out any wrinkles."
Several South Bay educators said they doubted that the potential advantages of Allen's law will be realized until more child-care services are made available to working parents at an affordable price.
"The new law addresses the question of where a child gets his schooling," said Art Margolese, superintendent of the Wiseburn Elementary School District, which serves part of Hawthorne and El Segundo as well as unincorporated areas. "But that's not the problem. The problem is, who takes care of the child before and after school when the parent is on a 9-to-5 work shift?"
He said most districts cannot meet the demands of resident parents for child-care services, let alone the needs of people who might want to bring in children from outside. A combination of government and industry funding is needed to set up adequate services, he said.
YMCA to Set Up Program
The Wiseburn district, like most others, does not have the resources to provide child care, Margolese said, but the Hawthorne YMCA is working on a plan to set up facilities at a closed district campus. Until more child care is available, Allen's legislation may be more helpful to part-time workers who can match their hours on the job with their children's school day, suggests Nancy Mahr, a spokeswoman for the Palos Verdes Unified School District.
Mahr said her district, which has received only two applications to transfer into the district, does not expect to get enough new students under Allen's law to make a significant difference in the student population of the under-enrolled district.
The largely residential Peninsula has no major industries, and its biggest employer--the school district--already allows non-resident employees to enroll their children in the local schools, she said.