Sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville)and Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah), the bill‚Äúrequires the reduction of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments for parents or caretakers of TANF recipients whose children fail to maintain satisfactory progress in school.‚ÄĚ
Should a low-income family‚Äôs child not meet satisfactory levels in the subject areas of mathematics and reading or language arts, the family‚Äôs welfare benefits will be reduced by 20 percent.
The legislation (Senate Bill 132, House Bill 261) applies to low-income families, with no mention of penalties to middle or high-income families whose children perform poorly in school.
Bill branded ‚Äėdiscriminatory‚Äô
Tennessee state representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) calls the bill ‚Äúdiscriminatory.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs just one more way to punish families who have fallen on hard times,‚ÄĚ Johnson told theGrio. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt believe for a second this will be anything to improve a child‚Äôs education.‚ÄĚ
As a high school special education teacher, Johnson said this kind of bill is not what at-risk students need.
‚ÄúTo add the responsibility of the family budget on these kids, it‚Äôs not going to help these kids. It‚Äôs not going to move them forward,‚ÄĚ Johnson said.
‚Äú[The bill] sets up a terrible relationship between families and educators,‚ÄĚ Johnson continued. ‚ÄĚIt sets up animosity between school and home.‚ÄĚ
Johnson recommends after school or weekend programs, such as ‚Äúcommunity schools‚ÄĚ where parents spend time with their children and can see what they are doing and how they are doing in school.
Representative Mike Turner (D-Old Hickory) told theGrio this is just one example of Tennessee legislature that is ‚Äútrying to set back the working class people.‚ÄĚ
Amendments may or may not make a difference
Amendments have been made to the original legislation to exclude students with learning disabilities and those who have an individualized education program (IEP) from being penalized for not maintaining satisfactory academic progress. Instead, special education students will be measured on school attendance.
‚ÄúThere are no amendments that will make this bill okay,‚ÄĚ Johnson said. ‚ÄúThere just aren‚Äôt.‚ÄĚ
Further amendments also provide four ways the reduction can be restored once it is applied to a family‚Äôs payments. Attending two parent teacher conferences, eight hours of parenting classes, enrolling the child in a tutoring program, or enrolling the child in summer school are the available options.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs all kinds of loopholes,‚ÄĚ Rep. Turner said, noting that homeschooling is addressed in the Senate version but is not addressed in the House bill. ‚ÄĚNo Democrats will vote for the bill.‚ÄĚ
The House Health Committee, of which Johnson, Dennis, and Turner are members, is set to vote on the bill April 3.
If passed, SB 132 will take effect on July 1, 2013, just in time for the 2013-2014 school year.
theGrio.com reached out to Sen. Campfield and Rep. Dennis for comment, but our calls have not yet been returned