The state of Tennessee is attempting to pass new legislation that will penalize families if their children do no perform well in school. If a child does not meet the state’s requirements in reading, math, or language arts, the family will have their welfare benefits reduced by 30%.
One of the most egregious errors in introducing this bill is that it solely affects low-income families. If you are middle or upper income and your child does poorly, you won’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from or if you can pay the rent. Those on welfare have already fallen on hard times and are already likely to struggle in all aspects of life, yet the government of Tennessee has decided put more pressure on children where it doesn’t belong.
“It’s just one more way to punish families who have fallen on hard times,” Johnson told theGrio. “I don’t believe for a second this will be anything to improve a child’s education.”
As a high school special education teacher, Johnson said this kind of bill is not what at-risk students need.
“To add the responsibility of the family budget on these kids, it’s not going to help these kids. It’s not going to move them forward,” Johnson said.
“[The bill] sets up a terrible relationship between families and educators,” Johnson continued. ”It sets up animosity between school and home.”
Low-income families often struggle to put food on the table. With a cut in benefits, there will be less food. Students who don’t have the opportunity to eat properly lack the ability to focus, which, in turn, leads to lower grades, and the cycle continues. This bill penalizes the children who are most at risk in this new legislative plan.
Johnson recommends after school or weekend programs, such as “community schools” where parents spend time with their children and can see what they are doing and how they are doing in school.
If a parent is already struggling and needs assistance, it is highly unlikely that they have a job with weekends off. By suggesting a “community school” during a time that is convenient for the state, they are, essentially, setting the parent up to fail.
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.
These amendments will cover many students and, as soon as parents discover that a learning disability or IEP will eliminate their worries, they will push to have the child tested. This will soon overburden the school system and the government in their attempts to implement testing and new IEPs. Learning disabilities are highly subjective and it is trivial to be labeled SLD (Specific Learning Disability). Further still, there are four ways to restore benefits to the families. By providing so many loopholes into the plan, it almost becomes moot as to why legislators are pushing for such a bill, particularly since there are also ways to earn back assistance, some of which aren’t difficult to achieve.
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.
The first should be easily attained as they are scheduled at a time that is convenient to all those involved. While it might sound like a good idea to take parenting classes, it is still flawed. The parent will need to adjust their schedule to attend such classes and will likely spend months fulfilling this requirement to have their assistance restored. This further penalizes families because their money will be stretched for an indeterminate amount of time, causing more stress and undue hardship.
There is also the consideration that, even though a parent may be doing everything right, you can only control your child so much. At some point in time, the child also has to take responsibility for their actions. Some students, no matter how much pleading, prodding, and helping will simply refuse to do any schoolwork. In such a case, an entire family is penalized for the actions of a single child as the whole family are deemed guilty by association.
The legislation put forth in the Tennessee legislature is ill-thought out. It doesn’t address homeschooling properly, leaving that questions up in the air as to whether or not it will be included in the final bill. Both bills disproportionately affect low-income students. Higher income students are not disadvantaged economically for performing poorly in school. The State of Tennessee, however, doesn’t seem to care. They are only looking for ways to cut their budget and reducing assistance to low-income families as a quick fix without being concerned about the long-term costs or effects. Students who do poorly in school are more likely to be low-skilled with little motivation. Many often turn to crime as a means to make ends meet. If the state removes assistance, it could have a long-term detrimental effect on a community.
If the Tennessee legislature votes for the bill, it will be in full effect for the 2013-2014 school year. For Tennessee, it will be a law that further disenfranchises and entire group of people instead of helping to lift them out of poverty.
UPDATE: State Representative Stacey Campfield has withdrawn the bill after Republicans refused to support it.