A Broader, Bolder Christmas: Top Ten “Gifts” for Under the (Education Policy) Tree

Co-authored with Elaine Weiss

10. A Roof Over Every Student’s Head: Children who lack stable homes are more anxious and less focused than their peers who have adequate housing. They are also at higher risk for poor health and developmental problems, and have lower educational attainment. There is no reason why any child in the United States should not enjoy stable housing. Moreover, we end up paying more for children to sleep in cars or in shelters than we would to provide their families with apartments. It’s time to fund the National Housing Trust Fund that was signed into law by President George W. Bush but never funded.

9. School Breakfast and Lunch for All Eligible Students: Children who are hungry have difficulty concentrating and an impaired learning ability. The recession raised already unacceptable levels of child food insecurity to crisis levels. In Ohio, one in four children was at risk of going hungry in 2012. More than half of surveyed teachers told Share our Strength that they buy food to feed their hungry students. Eating school breakfasts is associated with increased math and reading scores, improved speed and memory in cognitive tests, stronger academic performance, and improved attendance and punctuality.  It’s time for schools to adopt policies like universal breakfast and breakfast in the classroom.

8. Expanded Access to Quality Pre-kindergarten: When a Nobel Laureate economist (James Heckman), chair of the Federal Reserve Bank (Ben Bernanke) and one of the nation’s best-loved billionaires (Warren Buffett) all agree that quality pre-kindergarten is the smartest public investment, shouldn’t that give us pause? A recent report on Texas’s large, poor-quality pre-k program demonstrates that even low-cost programs deliver public benefits. Expanding access in states that already provide higher-quality pre-k—like Alabama, Illinois, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania—would greatly increase those benefits. Further, Head Start currently serves fewer than half of eligible low-income 3- and 4-year-olds and needs renewed attention. Research shows that children who participated in a quality program during their preschool years are better prepared to learn, have higher self-esteem, and more developed social skills when they start kindergarten. These investments are truly a no-brainer.

7. Elimination of Waiting Lists for Child Care Subsidies: One of the policy areas hardest-hit by the recession is subsidized child care. In 2012, twenty-seven states had childcare policies that left families worse off than they were in 2011, and twenty-three denied assistance to eligible children. Only one state reimbursed childcare providers at the federally recommended level, compared to twenty-two in 2011, making it tough for them to serve low-income children. Florida alone has more than 75,000 children on waiting lists. It’s difficult for a parent to work, or even look for work, when quality, affordable childcare is unavailable.

6. Affordable physical, mental and dental medical care: Low-income children miss more school days each year—and many lack focus in class—relative to their economically better-off peers. This is due in part to higher rates of illnesses and fewer resources to address them, and it further widens the achievement gap. We urge the president to appropriate $50 million in his FY 2014 budget for school-based health center (SBHC) operations. SBHCs provide access to care for over 2 million school-aged children, protecting them from cavities and gum disease, ensuring that they can actually see their textbooks and whiteboards, reducing diabetes through diet and fitness counseling, screening and treating for depression and diverting students from emergency rooms so they can stay in school to learn.

5. Expanded learning time that delivers enriching after-school experiences: As an increasing number of states commit to expanding the school day and year, we urge them to ensure that low-income children benefit from the same kinds of mind- and world-broadening experiences as their higher-income peers. Music, arts, organized sports, chess, trips to museums and the theatre—all of these kinds of activities build on what students learn from 9–3. Adding hours simply for test preparation, however, would waste the opportunity for the kind of after-school experiences that inspired Pobo Efekoro, who says that learning to play chess literally changed his life.

4. Experienced, qualified teachers in appropriately sized classes: Low-income and minority students are disproportionately likely to be taught by less qualified and uncertified teachers. These students also go to schools with larger classes, which make the individual, tailored instruction that at-risk students need very difficult to come by. President Obama would never send his children to schools without small classes and great teachers—at-risk children need this kind of environment more than anyone.

3. Fully-resourced schools: The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education we seek—and physical education our children need—require properly equipped laboratories, libraries and gymnasiums in every school. Even before the recession, schools serving low-income communities were less likely to have these “amenities.” Now a growing number of districts view these basic academic necessities as extras and are stripping them from their budgets. We are certainly not going to produce learners and workers who are ready to thrive in a twenty-first-century economy if they haven’t experimented with test tubes, played on organized teams or conducted sophisticated internet-based research.

2. An enriching, holistic curriculum: Stop the madness! We say we want more STEM majors, creative thinkers, students who are college- and career-ready, and fewer obese children. It is hard to imagine how making everything contingent on math and reading test scores–resulting in neglect of science, arts, music, critical thinking and elimination of recess—can do anything but ensure that we’ll achieve exactly none of those goals. Policies that provide all children with a holistic, enriching education—and that minimize an emphasis on standardized testing—would do far more to help young people achieve their potential.

1. National policies that enable parents, families, and communities to provide children with what they need to thrive educationally. As the fiscal cliff looms, revenue and spending decisions affect not only on our nation’s budget, but our children’s educational and life prospects. The Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, WIC, SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, housing vouchers and other federal programs that might seem unrelated to schooling enhance children’s ability to succeed. You can speak out to protect these vital investments here.

Elaine Weiss is the national coordinator for the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, where she works with a high-level Task Force and coalition partners to promote a comprehensive, evidence-based set of policies to allow all children to thrive.

Must-See Farmworker Video

From Katrina vanden Heuvel: “The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the remarkable farmworker organization in Florida that I have written about many times over the years as they continue to win victory after victory in their Campaign for Fair Food, has done it again. This time they have put together a must-see video that is mandatory watching this holiday season:”

Get Involved

Time is Running Out: Call Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office, tell him to pass a Violence Against Women Act that includes strong provisions to protect Native and immigrant women and LGBT survivors.

Don’t Push Jobless Americans Over the Cliff—Renew Unemployment Insurance for 2013.

Call for Organizations: Sign on/Join the SSI Coalition for Children and Families (contact Rebecca Vallas—info. at link).

“For Their Memory Shall Be a Blessing”—EndGunViolenceNow.org.

Clips and other resources (compiled with Christie Thompson)

Aiming High: Hyatt Housekeepers Seek to Join Hotel’s Corporate Board,” Sheila Bapat

A model integrated community for Chicago to study,” Steve Bogira

In Fiscal Cliff Deal, Don’t Chain Grandma to Smaller Social Security Checks,” Bryce Covert

Charting the State of the U.S. Economy,” Economic Policy Institute

Dear God! When Will It Stop?” Marian Wright Edelman

Nicholas Kristof Says, ‘I’m No Expert on Domestic Poverty’ —You Can Say That Again,” Peter Edelman

Listen to the Fed: Unemployment Is the Real Problem,” William Greider

Pressure Mounts to Reauthorize VAWA,” Melissa Harris-Perry

Stop Blaming Single Mothers,” Amanda Marcotte.

Income inequality increasing in the nation’s capital,” Deborah Nelson and Himanshu Ojha

Job training offers a second shot at prosperity,” David Rohde and Kristina Cooke

SSI and Children with Disabilities: Just the Facts,” Kathy Ruffing and LaDonna Pavetti

Deal Signed to Overhaul Juvenile Justice in Tennessee,” Kim Severson

Studies (written by Christie Thompson)

2012 Child Well-Being Index,” Kenneth C. Land, Foundation for Child Development. American families have been suffering a slow economic decline for over a decade. The annual release of the CWI by the Foundation for Child Development shows that more children are impoverished today than they were over 30 years ago. In 2011, over 20 percent of children were living in poverty, up nearly 6 percent since 2001. Families saw a significant drop in median income, and a lower likelihood of parents having stable employment. The recession isn’t solely to blame: rising poverty and falling wages started six years before the economic crisis hit.

Social Contract Budgeting: Prescriptions from Economics and History,” by Peter Lindert, the New America Foundation. For too long, our debate over sensible economic policy has been skewed by partisan politics. We now have a clear opportunity to redirect our economic way forward by promoting policies that reduce inequality and spur growth. Lindert outlines the broad strategy needed, focusing on health insurance, education, broad taxes and pensions. “Among the key strategies are investing more in the young, making social insurance more universal, and shifting to broader and more uniform taxation,” Lindert writes.

Vital Statistic

Annual firearm deaths, US: more than 12,000, highest rate of any developed country, twenty times the average of other developed nations.

Quote of the Week

“The latest terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School is no fluke. It is a result of the senseless, immoral neglect of all of us as a nation to protect children instead of guns and to speak out against the pervasive culture of violence and proliferation of guns in our nation…. We have so much work to do to build safe communities for our children and need leaders at all levels of government who will stand up against the NRA and for every child’s right to live and learn free of gun violence. But that will not happen until mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, and neighbors and faith leaders and everybody who believes that children have a right to grow up safely stand up together and make a mighty ruckus as long as necessary to break the gun lobby’s veto on common sense gun policy…. And we must aspire and act together to become the world leader in protecting children against gun violence rather than leading the world in child victims of guns. Every child’s life is sacred and it is long past time that we protect all our children.”
      —Marian Wright Edelman, from Dear God! When Will It Stop?

Christie Thompson co-wrote the “Clips and other resources” section of this blog, and wrote the “Studies” section.

Today in Poverty posts one day a week. This Week in Poverty posts on Friday mornings, and again on Sundays at Moyers & Company. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.