Jon Marcus reports
President Clinton has proposed tripling government spending on after-school and summer-school programmes, following a rise in the number of children left home alone and the growing rate of daytime juvenile crime.
If Congress approves the proposal, the programme which has already grown from $1 million (pound;588,000) a year to $200m since it began in 1997, will climb to $600m, the steepest rise of any government scheme.
The number of children served will rise from the current 190,000 to about 1.1 million. The money would pay for schools to stay open until 8pm, providing arts, cultural and recreational activities, violence and drug-prevention education and academic tutoring.
The parents of more than 28 million American children go to work, and as many as 15 million are left to cope by themselves at home much of the afternoon, according to the US department of education.
Experts say some turn to alcohol, drugs, sex and crime, or drop out of school. A disproportionate amount of juvenile crime occurs between the time that school ends - around 2:30pm - and the early evening.
"With quality after-school (programmes), students learn their lessons in the schoolhouse, not on the street," Mr Clinton said.
Hillary Clinton, who appeared with her husband to announce the plan, said it would mean "the difference between lives of accomplishment and lives of hopelessness and failure. We know too well the consequences of those unsupervised hours, and parents do have need to worry."
Schools competing for the money will be given preference if they have taken steps to end the automatic promotion of unqualified students from one grade to the next, opening the door for the federal government to use financial rewards as a means of encouraging reform.
"Our public schools must change," Mr Clinton said. "Don't flunk anybody because the system is failing the kids. Give them the after-school programmes. Give them the summer-school programmes. Give them the tools they need to succeed."
But while educators and police welcomed the initiative, some critics complained the president was using schoolchildren to distract attention from impeachment proceedings, which got under way even as he was announcing the proposal at the White House.
After-school programmes are very popular with voters - 80 per cent of taxpayers surveyed support spending more money on them, even if it meant a tax increase, while 35 per cent of parents say they have difficulty providing after-school supervision for their children.