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Should welfare payments be linked to student academic success?

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A new and controversial bill has been introduced to theTennessee Congress. Republican State Senator, Stacey Campfield, has sponsored legislation that calls for the cutting back of welfare benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.

Fair or biased? As schools and teachers have become more and more accountable for the educational progress of students, the missing factor has largely been parent involvement. Many do not take the necessary active role in their children’s educations, but schools – specifically teachers - are still held highly accountable for success and the lack thereof.

However, on the other side of the coin, the question was raised by Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle, “How does Senator Campfield expect a child to do his homework when there is no food on the dinner table?”

That is exactly what pubic educators have been saying all along. How can we educate children properly when they are hungry, abused, tired or absent? When parents are not doing their share at home? If these things are acceptable justification for parents of underperforming students to continue business as usual, then why aren’t they addressed as obstacles for educators?

Educators are to raise test scores. Period. No excuses allowed – but can we pardon parents for lack of involvement and expect the schools to fill the gaps?

According to the article referenced above, “satisfactory academic progress” would be based on grade level advancement and standardized testing. That’s a little vague, but is the idea a good one at its core?

The argument is that it discriminates against at-risk children. There is clear research that ties socioeconomics to test scores. Children in poverty test lower than children who are not. However, that isn't new. Will/can parents improve their involvement in education as a result of losing money or will they simply be further into the poverty cycle? Can the threat of still further poverty really be a change agent? Or does it just hurt the children who are caught in a generational cycle through no fault of their own?

Many parents are uneducated and/or limited themselves; some are intimidated by schools. Although most schools offer many types of assistance including free tutoring, parenting classes, homework hotlines, opportunities for conferences, etc., sadly, there are some parents who just don’t take the time to engage; for whatever reasons. There may be some discomfort in extra effort, time and work, but it's a requirement for educators. Should we not expect the same from parents?

Currently, according to Foxnews.com, "Parents of children who receive welfare benefits through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program can see their benefits cut by 20 percent if their child doesn't show up for school." In my 24 years as an educator, I’ve not seen this happen. I’ve never seen the $50 per day fine imposed on parents whose children miss excessive days of school without legitimate reasons. Teachers are still accountable.

Based on this observation, enforcement of these kinds of laws seems arbitrary at best. If this new legislation passes, will it be enforced? And how will that look? What will the true standard look like? It should be fair, and fair is subjective. This is a tough economy. It's understandable that an overworked parent is simply too exhausted to engage in homework help at the end of the day, but is it justifiable? Ultimately, we are creating American society - can we afford to sleep on the job?

I think the intent is good, but it doesn't take into account individual circumstances. A novel idea but perhaps naïve today. Are there better, more positive ways to hold parents accountable for their children's efforts in school? What are your thoughts?

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