Unscrupulous welfare conditions

by Ronald Dixon

Several states are debating whether or not to connect public school attendance for children and to their parents receiving welfare benefits from the state.

For example, Steve Cookson, a Republican legislator in Missouri who is a chairman for the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, proposed a one-sentence bill that would disqualify parents from receiving benefits unless if their children attending public schools 90 percent of the time, baring physical disabilities. Moreover, Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican of Michigan, passed a law last September that harms the 20 percent of children and their families in the state that do not attend the mandated prerequisite amount of school days. Finally, the Tennessee Legislature is debating on proposals to tie both attendance and performance to welfare benefits.

These proposals have a multitude of flaws.

First, these discussions fail to address sickness or ailments. Even if a child does very well in school, despite the socioeconomic disadvantages that they face, getting the flu would exponentially increase the odds that the family would get their benefits cut.

Also, these laws provide an unfair burden upon the poor. Children in lower socioeconomic levels are disadvantaged in several ways, from a lack of resources at home, to parents that have a lower chance of having the capacity of helping their children with their homework, to lacking adequate health insurance in the instance where the child gets sick, to improperly funded schools, to unsafe neighborhoods. Several conditions that the poor face obstruct regular routines, which often results in the reduction of attendance in schools. Making the family even worse off, as the result of being unable to send their children to school for the mandated amount of time, is outrageous.

The Tennessee proposal offers an extra obstacle, utilizing both attendance and success. If a child is attending school, despite the aforementioned disadvantages, but is struggling to pass their Math or English courses, then a mandate to require actual success in the classroom only places more of a burden and a pressure upon kids. If a child in this unfortunate situation knows that getting a failed grade on their next Science or Social Studies test would result in his or her family slipping into extreme forms of poverty, would that incentivize the student to do better, or would that further hinder the ability for the child to do better? Common sense dictates the latter. This unfair burden should never be instituted upon a vulnerable child.

Although not as big of a concern, this is certainly relevant to those that attend private schools prior to slipping into poverty. If a child was attending a private school, and the parent(s) lose employment, then there would already be enough hassle to potentially transfer the child to a public school. The proposals, however, fail to provide a clarification as to whether or not the rules would apply to students in private institutions. Would an enrollment in a non-public school mean that the child attending a public school zero percent of the time, whereby justifying the government taking welfare away from the parents? We simply do not know.

Finally, the rhetoric and approaches that these state Republican legislators are using is a clear sign that they have a blatant antipathy against the poor. These same Republicans, which can easily be matched to the obstructionist conservatives on the national level, dislike any proposal that calls for fixing educational problems. Any chance that they get to transfer education from public schools to private schools they will take. Any law that provides aid for those in lower socioeconomic classes is rejected, while these same members of Congress promote subsidies for the richest Americans. These relatively new proposals are no exception for this Republican standard; anything that can save resources that can be funneled to the rich, even at the expense of poor families, will be taken by elected conservative politicians.

Instead of punishing families for children not meeting prerequisite attendance or educational requirements, Congressmen must invest in schools, especially those that are located in poor neighborhoods. Moreover, legislation that stimulates the economy in general, such as the American Recovery and Reinvest Act of 2009, promotes economic growth, which would help the populace. These are the type of measures that must be enacted to help the American people, including the poor. Vehement attacks against the most vulnerable in society, the Republican alternative, should never be mandated by law.


Ronald Dixon welcomes comments at [email protected].