Should Parents Of Failing Students Lose Welfare Benefits?

There is apparently no end to the damage legislators in Tennessee want to inflict on their public school students.

Early last year, I wrote here about The Tea Party of Tennessee wanting to remove from history textbooks any incidents of slavery and genocide linked to the founders of the US, for fear those references would tarnish the image of the Founding Fathers.

Then there was the state’s so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay‘ bill, which died with the adjournment of the state assembly last year. But this year the measure is back, with new, harsher requirements. Tennessee teachers would still be barred from discussing any “non-heterosexual” sexuality in grades K-8, but in addition there’s a provision requiring teachers or counselors to inform the parents of students who identify themselves as LGBT.

And now this: the latest anti-education idea to emerge from Tennessee is a proposal to take away welfare payments from parents whose kids get bad grades or do poorly on tests. Bizarrely, this is supposed to “end the poverty cycle.” Are they really that clueless?

Republican State Senator Stacey Campfield apparently believes this is a great way to break the cycle of poverty, and he is determined to make it state law.

On his own blog, Campfield wrote:

One of the top tickets to break the chain of poverty is education. To achieve a quality education is like a three legged stool. The state has put a lot of responsibility on schools and teachers to improve student performance. If the children don’t produce, it could impact the pay of the teacher and the standing of the school with the state. We have pushed two of the three legs of the student performance (teachers and schools) to improve, and they are.

While those two legs are important, one other leg has proven to be more important. The third leg has shown to have a greater impact on the children performance than  the school, than the teacher, than race of the child, than the income of the parent, than the location of the student.

The third leg of the stool (probably the most important leg) is the parents. We have done little to hold them accountable for their child’s performance. What my bill would do is put some responsibility on parents for their child’s performance.

As it turns out, current Tennessee law already requires that parents whose children do not attend school lose 20 percent of their benefits from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Campfield’s bill will raise that penalty to 30 percent of benefits if a child is not performing at a “satisfactory” level. Is this just a money-making strategy?

The bill defines “satisfactory” as “Advancing from one grade to the next and receiving a score of proficient or advanced on required state examinations in the subject areas of mathematics and reading/language arts.”

There have been other suggestions on holding parents accountable in the past.

Last year, parents of students at a Michigan high school learned that they could face stiff penalties if their teen skipped school. Commissioners for the city of Adrian approved an ordinance that could potentially punish parents of absent teens with a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

Back in 2009, a school board in New Jersey decided that  parents should have to pay whenever their children were assigned detention. And there are plenty more examples of making parents accountable for the behavior of their kids.

The reality is that there are numerous reasons children do poorly in school: they can’t focus on learning when there is discord in the home, or when they don’t get enough to eat, or when they are being bullied. The list goes on.

It’s also well documented that kids do better at school when parents are involved in their education. But taking away welfare payments isn’t going to make that happen. Instead, how about requiring that parents attend parent-teacher conferences? Or that students complete homework? Or that parents emphasize the importance of school rules with their children?

Campfield is correct when he says that parents can have a big effect on student achievement. But that’s a long way from believing that kids will be helped by losing public benefits for getting bad grades and test scores.

Taking away welfare payments will not break the cycle of poverty. Instead, it will make parents and kids angry. This is a terrible idea. Campfield earns an ‘F.’

What do you think?


Related Care2 Coverage

Tenn Tea Party Demands Removal Of Slavery From Textbooks

Tennessee ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Now Requires Teachers To Inform Parents If Their Child Is Gay

Should Parents Go To Jail If Their Kid Skips School?


Photo Credit: thinkstock


June J.
June J4 years ago

The children of welfare dependent families are failing due to a lack of funding from the top one percent of wealthy Americans (the income gap is highly inequitable; that's rampant unregulated rational capitalism for you) who DON'T want to pay taxes to support the poor and marginalised members of society. That includes welfare recipients. This is just one way of disenfranchising people of their legal rights. The wealthy members of society want to keep people ignorant; they DON'T want to educate them. Setting up charter schools, and introducing national standards and league tables all point to one thing: dismantling the public education system and underfunding it so that it does fail (having not met their carefully tailored standards). Punishing parents by denying them welfare benefits is also a cruel method of social control; they lose unless they keep quiet and accept the status quo. It further stigmatises welfare recipients, when often through no fault of their own, there are no jobs to be had. In short, I feel disgusted and angry that politicians would stoop that low. But the same thing is already happening in my own country, so I'm not really surprised.

Tammy Baxter
Tammy B4 years ago

stupid. just so incredibly stupid.

Soo Brooks
Sue B4 years ago

@ B.M., so what about parents who are just above the income level? Receiving benefits doesn't neccessarily make them bad parents, just as having a higher income doesn't automatically translate into being better parents. What about people who oppose birth control? There is something inherently wrong in forcing child limits on families receiving assistance. While I do agree that more parental involvement is needed, this is not the way to go about it. Perhaps Stella M.' suggestion about mandatory parental involvement is one way to go.

Tammy B.
Tammy B.4 years ago

I say fine, let them take the stinking not enough to survive benifits, though when they do they automaticaly assume the responsibility of doing a better job-personally themselves. Ever hear of a child considered "a failure to thrive"? I once had one, after heart surgery at 9 mo-3 wk she died. I also later had an educationally failure to thrive child who sat in school year after year not learning. I kept asking the principal after my Parent Teacher's Confrences, "Why isn't my son learning?" And each year for 6 in a row it was the same, "He just needs to mature a little". Well it never happened, finally I had him tested and it turned out he had a lower than the norm IQ and a slight mental Handicap. He had needed Special Classes from Kindergarden on! I never till then knew it! I had to switch his School to one that even offered those type classes. Finally had to Home School him. It's all why I say what I say.

Beth M.
Beth M4 years ago

Perhaps we should find out why the student is doing poorly?? I had bad grades in elementary school. Then it was discovered that I needed glasses. I went from D's to all A's. It is more important to look for the reasons why the student is failing and correct that problem.

Julie F.
Julie F5 years ago

I don't even know what to say to this.

Winona K.
Winona K.5 years ago

Private education is superior to public education. Public education is free. It has to be cost effective. Middle and high classes have too many students for one teacher. So, struggling students don't have the help they need. As with other cutbacks, I feel this is about money, and it seems opportunistic to take from a struggling family whose kids are struggling. A struggling student is a symptom of a bigger issue, bullying, Neuro-psychological, a rigid or OVERWORKED teacher, etc. All students want to be successful, they don't just choose not to be. Blame is too convenient....

Joanna M.
Joanna M5 years ago

As I commented earlier, I work in an urban school system with a large percentage of parents who are collecting benefits. I have seen personally that a good number of their children are doing poorly in school simply because they AREN'T THERE. For a variety of reasons - from casually taking off and going to Mexico for two or three months smack in the middle of the school year, to just plain not feeling like waking up early and going through the "bother" of dressing a kindergartner and escorting him or her to the bus stop - there are many, many children who are missing a great deal of school. I don't think that the general public is aware of this problem, frankly. So, from an insider POV, I would have to say that if the parents are on welfare and guilty of this, then yes, absolutely, punish them!! But if the child does go and make an effort and STILL failing, then no, other avenues need to be considered, since the problems are clearly not anything that will be solved by taking away their income.

Stella Ward
Stella Ward5 years ago

When my daughter was in kindergarten I searched for and enrolled her into a K-8 grade public school which required parent volunteerism. That school was voted as best school in the city. Bullying was at a minimum and kids progressed more than satisfactorily there. If we want more parent involvement then maybe we could look into making parent participation mandatory. That would solve a lot of the problems schools are facing nowadays i.e. school violence, bullying, schools recognizing when a family is in need of help from different services, school curriculum not being eliminated such as art, music and p.e.etc. I realize that many households have two working parents or are single parent households struggling to make ends meet (I was in such a predicament at the time), but there are always different ways that parents can take part in their child(ren)'s education. This will also help to promote children to want to get out of the cycle of poverty and to excel in life.

Margaret G.
Margaret G5 years ago

It appears that Tennessee is already punishing parents of K-8 students with a 20% cut in welfare benefits if the students do not make satisfactory progress in school. I wonder if there's any research in how students have done before and after this law.

Catherine G., I agree with you. There must be an investigation about why any student is not doing well in school, and then the necessary remedies should be applied. This is probably expensive in the short term, but inexpensive in the long run.

Perhaps people have babies to be on welfare. I suspect that this is not the case because the average family on welfare has fewer children than the average family not on welfare. Anyhow, if you want fewer children living in poverty, make safe, legal, affordable contraception and abortion widely available.