New proposal fights poverty one family at a time

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 29 2014 9:16 a.m. MST

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, is sponsoring legislation to spend $5 million a year for a program that would allow elementary schools to provide after-school instruction in math and reading for children in families affected by intergenerational poverty.

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SALT LAKE CITY — After poring over the data and consulting with experts, an Ogden senator is proposing legislation to fund after-school instruction in math and reading as a means of overcoming intergenerational poverty.

SB43 seeks $5 million to create a grant program for school districts to provide two hours of instruction after regular school hours to children of families affected by intergenerational poverty. The state appropriation would be matched with federal funds.

"I’m confident that over time, policymakers will see this really is a game changer for this particular population of kids," said Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden.

The bill, to be considered during this year's session, is the next step in an ongoing effort to research and study impacts of intergenerational welfare in Utah.

In 2012, the Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Reid that required the Department of Workforce Services to create a system to track intergenerational poverty data to identify at-risk children and to publish an annual report.

That effort was followed by legislation in 2013 that created a state commission to develop policy recommendations to end intergenerational poverty and dependence on public assistance programs.

"It’s an important foundation for what we’re trying to do and resolve this issue," Reid said. "I believe as we use the data to select what interventions are the most important focused on these children that we’ll be successful and actually over time save the state and the taxpayers millions upon millions of dollars."

The 2013 report identified more than 52,400 children ages newborn to 17 who live in intergenerational poverty households, up from 51,079 in fiscal 2012. Intergenerational poverty is the term given to identify generations of a family remaining impoverished.

How do you solve it?

"Education," the report said, "is a major determinant of potential earnings."

The report notes that only 37 percent of intergenerational public assistance recipients are high school graduates.

Clearly, the state needs to increase high school graduation rates of children living in poverty, Reid said.

Among many impoverished Utah children who did graduate from high school, however, "in the main, they’ve not received a quality education. Even though they graduated, they’ve struggled all the way though school and had real challenges and difficulty. They don’t have the assets the other kids have in terms of what they bring to school and the support they have at home," he said.

The goal of SB43, he said, is to help at-risk children who are struggling in school catch up with peers who are performing at grade level or above. Participation in the program would be voluntary.

Once children experience success in school, they'll become more engaged, Reid said.

"They’ll feel good about themselves. They’ll feel they can compete," Reid said. "Once they can realize that, their world opens up in ways that they could never imagine. They will be productive not only in school but in the workplace."

The benefits of their academic success will be evident in other ways, he said.

"If we can keep these kids in school, they’re less likely to be involved in crime, less likely to be doing drugs and alcohol, we’ll lower the rates of teen pregnancy," he said.

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