Poverty creates poor school performance. Time to stop it.

Kennedy with kidsBobby Kennedy made hunger and poverty relief a top priority with his Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, but 50 years later the United States has the 2nd highest rate of poverty among industrialized nations. And Dale Hansen of the Detroit News is asking, if poverty is the biggest problem education faces, why aren’t we more focused on relieving it? Dale supplies his own answer: Republicans are way too committed to their war on public education to allow positive change to get in their way.


History says that public education has been one of the leading mechanisms for lifting families out of poverty, so what statement is being made by Republicans and their allies who are systematically destroying public education in New Jersey Chicago, Philly, Michigan and other states? In New Jersey, for example, even though school districts directly controlled by the State are failing miserably, Christie just took over the Camden school district and has announced plans to facilitate privatization there as he has done in the three other State takeover school districts. Dale says,

… The reality is that the our-education-system-is-broken argument is .. fundamentally flawed. Republicans use it as an excuse to push their alternate agenda to corporatize our children’s education. Corporatization has been shown to be no better than the system they are working so hard to replace … Republicans … claim our education system is broken, insisting that teachers unions and bad teachers are the crux of the problem. Unfortunately, this is all based on anecdotal evidence as the data shows no such correlation.

And he shows another way private backers are scheming to get hold of public education funds: Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s education project, “aims to take more money away from public schools and funnel it to private organizations using what smacks of a voucher program.”

Education advocates have learned that school privatization backers around the country are part of a well-oiled machine backed by ALEC and the Koch Brothers, who are intent on destroying public education in favor of charter schools. The charters they back are privately run organizations managed with public tax dollars but no accountability to the local residents who pay those taxes; and charter schools are being built in vulnerable urban hubs populated by families of color with a high incidence of poverty level incomes. The charters are hugely profitable to founders who build and run them and to the investors who finance their construction. In fact, investments are doubled in under 7 years through use of New Markets Tax Credits.

Instead of combat poverty, the privatization of school administration, food, janitorial, secretarial and even in-class aide staff is institutionalizing it. Earlier this month (April 2013), kids in Attleboro Massachusetts were denied lunch if they owed as little as 5¢ on their cafeteria cards. They were sent away from the food line to finish the rest of their school day hungry. The principal blamed the food service, whose spokesman blamed the cafeteria workers. But it seems highly unlikely that the food service workers would dare to make a policy decision in a matter such as this.

It’s highly unlikely that food workers would want to deny poor children their midday meal for another reason: the workers, themselves, are victims of poverty. Typically, these (mostly) ladies earn only minimum wage, may not be given full-time working hours and they receive few to none of the benefits enjoyed by personnel directly employed by schools. It’s an interesting side-note that the wellbeing of school food service workers who are underpaid by their employers ends up being yet another cost to taxpayers. The Rutgers University Center for Women and Work/School of Management,

… ascertained that 64 percent of NJ K-12 school districts contract their food service to an outside company and that those private sector cafeteria jobs are largely part-time and typical(ly offer) no affordable health benefits. As a result, most workers are uninsured or forced to turn to the state’s public health insurance programs – a result that contributes largely to the school food service industry acting as one of the biggest drains on New Jersey FamilyCare, as over 6,300 employees and their children (are) covered by the taxpayer-funded state health assistance plan.

The GOP backed war on public education is carried out through the vehicle of privatization, which creates wealth for investors, poverty for employees and is used to tear down quality of life in communities by replacing neighborhood public schools with charters that lack community accountability and are not accessible to all of the students who need a place to be educated after charter school invasions cause their own neighborhood schools to close. It’s time for us to stand up in support of public education and take a stand against unscrupulous charter school owners, investors and the politicians who help move the school privatization agenda forward. We need to support strong public education, community engagement in schools and neighborhoods, and make this the agenda we move determinedly forward – to the farthest point we can take it.

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