A Tennessee state senator has come up with what I believe is a first: Republican State Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville proposes to cut welfare benefits to parents whose children don’t make “satisfactory academic progress” in school.
Campfield believes that his bill would compel parents to work harder to ensure their kids excel in school. As you might imagine, his Senate Bill 1312 is triggering a lot of comment.
(If you want to read about another odd law, here is a story about an Arizona legislator who wants all public high-school seniors to recite an oath supporting the U.S. Constitution to be able to graduate.)
While the Knoxville Republican says SB132 is a step toward “breaking the cycle of poverty,” Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, says it could make life more difficult for parents and children who are already struggling.
Campfield said in an interview that the best way to “break the cycle of poverty” is through education and a child’s success in schooling rests on a “three-legged stool” — teachers, schools and parents.
He said Tennessee has already embarked on education reforms designed to improve the quality of teachers and the quality of schools. There should also be a focus on the “third leg,” parents, he said. “We’ve set the tone (through legislation) to push and improve teachers and schools,” Campfield said. “Now is the time to push those parents. This bill is giving them motivation to do more to help their children learn in school.”
“If the family doesn’t care if the child goes to school or does well in school, the odds of that child getting out of poverty are pretty low,” the senator said.
The bill applies to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Current law says parents or guardians of children who are receiving benefits can lose 20 percent of those benefits if a child does not attend school. Campfield’s bill adds a new requirement that the child make “satisfactory academic progress” as well and raises the penalty to 30 percent of benefits.
“The maximum benefit for a mother with two children is $185 a month,” O’Neal said in an interview. “That’s already low. If you take $60 plus dollars away, you’re just further limiting people who already have extremely few resources… It’s just piling on.”
The bill defines “satisfactory academic progress” as advancing from one grade to the next and “receiving a score of proficient or advanced on required state examinations in the subject areas of mathematics and reading/language arts.” Those who fail to meet “competency” standards on end-of-course exams could also be deemed fall short of “satisfactory academic progress.”
On his own blog, Campfield explains his bill:
One of the top tickets to break the chain of poverty is education. To achieve a quality education is like a three legged stool. The state has put a lot of responsibility on schools and teachers to improve student performance. If the children don’t produce, it could impact the pay of the teacher and the standing of the school with the state. We have pushed two of the three legs of the student performance (teachers and schools) to improve, and they are.
While those two legs are important, one other leg has proven to be more important. The third leg has shown to have a greater impact on the children performance than the school, than the teacher, than race of the child, than the income of the parent, than the location of the student. The third leg of the stool (probably the most important leg) is the parents. We have done little to hold them accountable for their child’s performance. What my bill would do is put some responsibility on parents for their child’s performance.
If your child is failing their classes, if your child is not showing up to school, if your child has quit school. That is unacceptable. It is highly unlikely that child will ever escape poverty. The state can not continue to support the generational cycle of poverty. Just because parents may have quit school does not mean it is acceptable if their child does. Parents are responsible to make sure their kids are ready for school and that they get an education. If parents are not holding up their leg of the job (and your kids are not special needs) then the state is going to start holding back a portion of that parents government benefits.
The goal is not to punish anyone. No one will necessarily or instantly lose benefits because of this bills passage. The goal is to encourage parents to do what they should already be doing. We have to start breaking the cycle of generational poverty. I, nor anyone can assure a perfect 100% solution where everyone gets everything and no one loses benefits. but if we can pull 99% out of the cycle of poverty I will take that step.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog