Welfare for good grades? Tenn. lawmaker proposes different approach to aid

Compiled by Kate Bennion

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, April 10 2013 7:01 a.m. MDT

Andrew Jackson rides his horse in this statue at the Tennessee state capitol.

Associated Press

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Putting food on the table could soon depend on your child's report card in Tennessee, where the state legislature is considering a bill that would make state assistance to needy families contingent upon children's school performance.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield, would require the reduction of state welfare payments by 30 percent if children "fail to maintain satisfactory progress in school."

"Satisfactory progress" is defined as "complying with school attendance requirements and receiving a score of proficient or advanced on required state examinations in the subject areas of mathematics and reading or language arts, demonstrating competency as determined by the state board of education on two end of course examinations or maintaining a grade point average that is sufficient to ascend to the next grade," according to the bill summary.

Campfield described the measure as a "carrot" effort and has suggested that the financial incentive may reduce child abuse in some cases.

"The third leg of the stool (of education) 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," he wrote in a blog post. "The goal is not to punish anyone. … The goal is to encourage parents to do what they should already be doing."

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients in Tennessee already receive a deduction of 20 percent if the children do not attend school or receive health checkups and immunizations. Tennesee's current welfare allocation gives out $185 a month, a number that hasn't changed since 1996.

The bill cleared both House and Senate committees after being amended to waive the measure if the child has a handicap or learning disability or when the parent attends a parenting course or enrolls the child in a tutoring program.

The bill has sparked concern both within and without the state. According to KnoxNews, the executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth said the bill "could make life more difficult for parents and children who are already struggling."

Nashville organization Clergy for Justice began a change.org petition in opposition to the legislation. It has more than 3,000 signatures.

"As a former teacher, I have seen firsthand what lack of food does to a child in an educational setting," says one commenter. "When you are hungry, you cannot learn."

EMAIL: kbennion@deseretnews.com

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