If a child fails to make adequate progress in school their parents' federal welfare benefits could be cut by up to 30% until the child's school performance improves, if a bill proposed by a Tennessee lawmaker is approved.
Tennessee Senator Stacey Campfield, of Knoxville, introduced the bill (SB0132) that would reduce benefits people receive from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF).
“If the student performs, the teacher gets paid more and we do the same thing for the schools.” Campfield said. “The only place we are not holding the same standard is with the parents.”
Campfield said similar measures in countries, like Brazil, have helped lower the dropout rate among impoverished families.
Critics have accused Campfield of trying to punish low-income students for their parent's lack of involvement.
On a Facebook page titled “Recall TN State Senator Stacey Campfield” critics commented that “Campfield has to go.”
Campfield said part of the complaints he has received are based on a fear that his legislation could lead to children not eating or families being evicted from their homes.
“One thing I want to make very clear is that there is a misconception out there that this is going to stop some sort of food stamps and it doesn't,” he said. “That it is going to stop WIC or housing credits this absolutely has nothing to do with those things at all.”
The TANF funds are paid out from the federal government through states to recipients. It is separate from other programs that provide food and housing subsidies.
“My goal is not to punish the parents, but to get them involved,” Campfield said.
The state senator said the monitoring process for is legislation is still being finalized.
But, he said students who are considered learning disabled would be exempt from the requirement.
“If the kid has skipped so many classes that it's impossible for them to continue on, the child has quit school or they are failing [ a class] so badly there is no way they are going to pass that could get them, ” Campfield said. “Education is a golden ticket out of poverty. We need these kids to get involved in education.”
Campfield said a number of teachers from across the nation have contacted him and offered their support for the legislation.
“I have gotten so many calls and emails from teachers saying this is spectacular we need this,” he said. “[They said] we have parents who literally drift in at 11 o'clock and drop their kids off with the kid still in their pajamas.”
The Tennessee Education Association has not taken an official position on Campfield's legislation.
A TEA spokeswoman said teachers she spoke with do not support linking grades to federal benefits.
Maurice Fitzgerald is a well-known Metro Nashville coach and co-founder of In Full Motion.
In Full Motion is a non-profit organization that provides assistance to inner city and at risk youth.
The goal of the organization is to help children become a productive citizen, while empowering them to be successful.
Fitzgerald has not read Campfield's bill, but said any measure that takes resources away from low-income families with children threatens the family's to provide educational enrichment.
“I believe we have got to come together as a community lawmakers and churches to make sure we are doing everything possible not to put a strain on the family but to enhance their ability by helping them with different kinds of programs,” he said. “We are talking about children versus adults who made adult decisions. Children are our responsibility.”
Fitzgerald said children from low-income families often face barriers that other children from more affluent families do not.
“One barrier is the child does not have transportation,” he said. “There is no budget for transportation for these students who want to participate whether its athletics, drama or music.”
Fitzgerald said helping families overcome those barriers is a more effective way of impacting student achievement.
The Senate version of the bill has been assigned to the Senates Health and Welfare committee.
Campfield said he does not know how much support the measure has in the full Senate.
A companion bill in the Tennessee House of Representative is being sponsored by Representative Vance Dennis, (R) Savannah.
The House of Representative version has not been assigned to a committee.