Families' welfare could get cut if kids flunk
Some lawmakers in Tennessee think they have the answer to helping poor students who are struggling in school: Reduce welfare payments to their families.
How would it work? If a poor kid fails a grade, that family's welfare benefits could be cut by up to 30%. The theory is that the threat of less money would prompt the parents to pay attention to their child's learning and education.
"It's really just something to try to get parents involved with their kids," Sen. Stacey Campfield, who sponsored the legislation, told the Tennessean newspaper. "We have to do something."
An amended version of the bill -- which added tweaks such as limiting maximum penalties to parents who don't attend parent-teacher conferences -- passed a state Senate committee earlier this week, according to the publication. Special-needs students would be exempt.
Research supports Campfield's premise that parental involvement will close the learning gap between the haves and have-nots. A 2007 Harvard Family Research Project study found that parental involvement for children in low-income families made a big difference in achievement.
But it remains to be seen if the threat of lower welfare payments could spur impoverished parents to action -- or even if teachers would fail those students, if they knew that could mean even more troubles at home.
One thing is certain: Low-income students are at a huge disadvantage when compared with kids from wealthier families. Poor children often grow up with a "word gap," meaning they hear fewer spoken words from adults each day than do children from middle- or high-income homes.
"In fact, by the time a child growing up in a low-income household reaches their fourth birthday, they will have heard 30 million fewer words than their peers in middle- and high-income households," according to the Mayors Challenge from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The charitable organization earlier this month awarded $5 million to Providence, R.I., for a program that seeks to close the word gap with young children.
Tennessee's push comes as the state grapples with a rise in the number of families receiving welfare. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, welfare recipients in Tennessee have jumped 14% since 2007, when the recession started.
Campbell wrote on his blog on Tuesday that parents would have an "out" if they enroll the kids in tutoring, which he says is "free in every school I know of," or if they set up a tutoring program. Parents could also enroll themselves in a parenting course or attend multiple parent-teacher conferences to get their kids on track.
He added, "If passed this could be a great step in ending generational poverty caused by lack of education."