Why a child poverty target is good education policy
Kevin Lindsey (Former Staff)Education Poverty & Family Economics
While both the House and Senate continue work on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, the primary federal education legislation), Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL), Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) introduced a bill that would have a major positive impact on children’s education, but it falls outside the jurisdiction of the education committees and does nothing to amend ESEA.
The Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2015 (H.R. 2408), introduced on May 19, 2015, would establish a national goal of cutting child poverty in half in ten years and eliminating it in 20. To help achieve these goals, it would also authorize an interagency working group to develop a plan to meet these targets and request a study from the National Academy of Sciences to assist in developing a plan to reduce child poverty.
This legislation is important for children’s education because of the well-researched impact of poverty on children’s academic achievement, likelihood to graduate from high school, and pursue higher education. Children living in or near poverty experience toxic stress (which continues to affect children well beyond their early years), instability, community violence, and other environmental hazards like lack of heat in their homes. What does this all mean for children’s education? Higher rates of absenteeism; inability to concentrate on schoolwork; increased likelihood of depression; reduced motivation, determination, cognition, and memory; diminished social skills; and ultimately lower academic achievement and a higher risk of not finishing high school.
Considering the “new majority” in our schools, where over half of students in school from kindergarten through grade 12 qualify for free or reduced price lunch (FRPL), The Child Poverty Reduction Act is indispensable in the effort to increase achievement for all children. To qualify for FRPL, children must live below 185 percent of the poverty line (income of about $34,000 per year for a family of four) or in communities with such a high proportion of low-income families that they also qualify. The report above also shows that disproportionately more students of color live in low-income households than their white peers. Now is clearly the time to establish a child poverty target, a strategy that has been successful in the United Kingdom and can be applied to the U.S.
Though schools can help mitigate some effects of living in low-income families and communities for their students (such as the proven integrated student support strategy), poverty will continue to negatively impact education, and schools should not be expected to make up for all the negative effects of poverty on education. The Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2015 will set goals to decrease and eliminate child poverty, increasing equity in public education and improving education for every child. Ultimately, this will help ensure America’s continued competitiveness in a global economy. A letter of support for the Child Poverty Reduction Act is available here, and organizations can be added until Friday, June 12th.
Want to learn more? First Focus Campaign for Children is a bipartisan advocacy organization advocating to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. Learn more about our work on education and poverty.