Load Gun. Point at Foot.

I spent all of last week back in Tennessee, where this story was beginning to get some statewide attention. As of today, it’s national, with Fox News joining in on the coverage:

A Tennessee lawmaker is pushing a controversial new bill that would tie welfare benefits to students’ performance in school. 

Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield introduced the legislation last week, calling for the state to cut welfare benefits to parents whose kids don’t do well in class. 

He says it will  force parents to take a more active role in their children’s education. Critics, though, are panning the proposal as unfair, and one that could hurt children in the end. 

Currently, parents of children who receive welfare benefits through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program can see their benefits cut by 20 percent if their child doesn’t show up for school. Campfield’s proposal goes a step further and requires students make “satisfactory academic progress.”

Now, let’s stipulate that Tennessee does have a real welfare problem. It has the fifth highest number of per-capita recipients in the nation. There are serious pockets of both rural (Appalachia) and urban (inner-city Memphis, for example) poverty.

That being said, there’s got to be a better way to skin this cat. We too often forget that the federal welfare reform of the mid 90s was actually sold as an instrument for empowering welfare recipients. This effort, by contrast, is going to be hard to portray as anything other than punitive.

Tying benefits to attendance makes sense. If a welfare recipient’s child is a perpetual truant, we can draw a direct line between absenteeism and the vigilance of the parent. But there are far more factors than go into a child’s academic performance. If the size of anyone’s check is on the line, it probably makes more sense to start with schools and teachers (and even then, it’s an exceedingly blunt instrument).

For those of us (the Kemp Caucus) who’d like conservatism to (A) actively aid and (B) actually have some appeal to the underclass, this is the worst of both worlds: a policy proposal that likely won’t have the intended effects and that can easily be characterized as heartless.

If we want these people to like us, it’d help for us to start by not seeming like we’re out to get them.

  1. Bereket Kelile

    I have a feeling that the data shows a correlation between poverty and academic performance, that is, poor kids tend to have low grades. I also imagine it’s unclear which way the causality goes. Either way, I don’t think this is going to help. Is this supposed to alleviate poverty or improve students’ grades? There definitely are other factors to consider, like the parents income and their level of education, for starters. 

  2. Yeah...ok.

    Cut ALL benefits by 25%. Then give, say, a 10% premium to those benefit recipients whose children reach a certain performance threshold.

    Now we’re giving a reward!

  3. Pseudodionysius
    Bereket Kelile: I have a feeling that the data shows a correlation between poverty and academic performance, that is, poor kids tend to have low grades. I also imagine it’s unclear which way the causality goes. Either way, I don’t think this is going to help. Is this supposed to alleviate poverty or improve students’ grades? There definitely are other factors to consider, like the parents income and their level of education, for starters.  · 10 minutes ago

    The only way it would help is if the parents’ and have unfettered access to charter, parochial and experimental schools, a voucher system or targeted subsidy to help them afford it. This legislation assumes the school and peer influences are s a non existent factor in the student’s performance. 

  4. Barkha Herman

    Was there a thread on stupidity recently?

    I know we are all an independent bunch, but can we please create a Republican “finishing school” where we force anyone wanting to run for office to attend and get some basic ideas clarified in their minds?

  5. Troy Senik, Ed.
    BrentB67

    If this mythical person exists they wouldn’t take welfare to begin with. · 18 minutes ago

    Despite the great (and misguided) efforts that have been made to destigmatize being on public aid in recent decades, there are still a lot more people than you’d think who see it as a personal failing to be on the dole. They’re not mythical. I’ve known many of them.

    On the question of politics, moreover, it’s not just about appealing to those who are themselves recipients. It’s also about conveying the message that caring about the poor does not mandate being a Democrat.

  6. Bereket Kelile

    It’s not we, the voters, who need to win them over. As a private citizen you have the luxury to be as harsh as you want to be. It’s the elected officials who are voting on these policies who have to get votes. We want conservative candidates to get elected and make the changes we want to see. This is the starting point, as frustrating and disappointing as it may be. Politics is about persuasion. They can’t take the Jon Huntsman approach and villify the very people they need to vote for them. 

  7. BrentB67
    Troy Senik, Ed.

    BrentB67

    If this mythical person exists they wouldn’t take welfare to begin with. · 18 minutes ago

    Despite the great (and misguided) efforts that have been made to destigmatize being on public aid in recent decades, there are still a lot more people than you’d think who see it as a personal failing to be on the dole. They’re not mythical. I’ve known many of them.

    On the question of politics, moreover, it’s not just about appealing to those who are themselves recipients. It’s also about conveying the message that caring about the poor does not mandate being a Democrat. · 2 minutes ago

    The question isn’t about caring for the poor and lending a hand up, that is one of the most rewarding experiences a person will ever know.

    The question is why is government involved? And if government is involved it should be every bit as onerous on the recipient as it is the taxplayer being stripped of their property and earnings.

  8. Leigh
    BrentB67: I will acknowledge the academic performance is a bar too high to get over, but having the kids go to school and behave is not. · 21 minutes ago

    Then we basically agree and can go sing Kumbaya.

    We’re all conservatives here.  The key point is that trying to use welfare as a tool for this kind of social engineering is a really bad idea, both substantially and politically.

    But you really deny that there are people on welfare today who would prefer not to be?  That’s the curse of the system: it’s destroyed many other options.  Some genuinely feel they have no place else to turn.  And then there are those who drift there in temporary despair or lethargy, but are not completely caught in the mentality yet.  They could be stirred out of it yet.

    Conservatives want to help these people, to offer new hope and inspiration, to pull them out of the welfare trap — not to write them off as deadbeat lost causes.

    Partly because it’s the right thing to do.  Partly because getting that right could be the difference between electoral victory and defeat.

  9. BrentB67
    Bereket Kelile: It’s not we, the voters, who need to win them over. As a private citizen you have the luxury to be as harsh as you want to be. It’s the elected officials who are voting on these policies who have to get votes. We want conservative candidates to get elected and make the changes we want to see. This is the starting point, as frustrating and disappointing as it may be. Politics is about persuasion. They can’t take the Jon Huntsman approach and villify the very people they need to vote for them.  · 12 minutes ago

    Bereket – It isn’t a luxury for me, and I am confident you either, to be as harsh as we want to be to those who aren’t as materially or financially blessed as us.

    It is OK for us to be outraged that we can’t be as compassionate as we want to be toward them because the long arm of government is constantly in our pocket.

    Your thought on the starting point are very appropriate.

  10. Lucy Pevensie
    Barkha Herman: Was there a thread on stupidity recently?

    I know we are all an independent bunch, but can we please create a Republican “finishing school” where we force anyone wanting to run for office to attend and get some basic ideas clarified in their minds?

    This. 

    So many great policy ideas exist in the world, but there are so many barriers to the implementation of the best ideas and policies. How on earth can someone be so irresponsible as to waste good political capital introducing an idea as stupid as this?

  11. Mister D

    Unfortunately most attendance requirements allow students to show up as little as one day a month. Since becoming a teacher (around the time welfare reform was enacted), I have been amazed at the welfare culture that exists and the extents people will go suck money out of the system.

  12. Goldgeller

    The issue isn’t necessarily with “being on the dole.” Or at least, “being on the dole” in abstract. The issue is that we have systems in place that can incentivize being on the dole. Maybe the two are linked and their is nothing we can do about it. But maybe not. I don’t know what we can do about high-school. But it probably doesn’t have much to do with welfare reform, at least welfare reform that targets parents. 

    I think the issue now is this– highschool isn’t that “important” for a lot of people. Everyone wants to go to college and we’ve made it so that pretty much everyone goes to at least a community college, and somewhere along the line the first year of college became the last year of high school  I have very good anecdotal evidence of this regarding a state school. The major issue won’t be a simple fix– we need to increase the value of a high-school diploma and break the fixation on “college”, or at least 4 years of college. 

  13. Paul Erickson
    DrewInWisconsin: My first thought was “Why should welfare be tied to school performance?”

    So really . . . as to this topic — why, again, should we be getting the schools involved, and isn’t that just another bit of evidence that schools are less about education these days and more about social engineering? · 1 hour ago

    Drew – spot on.  Public schools have their problems, but one of the largest is that they are the poor schlubs that have to implement all the liberal do-gooder progressive programs.

    My wife tells me (and I haven’t found a way to link to her so you’ll have to take my word) that at a nearby school district there were so many kids needing nutrition assistance that the first period of each day now includes distribution of school breakfast. 

    (Natch, the teacher’s union has filed a grievance for extra compensation for additional lunch duty.  But that’s a subject for another post.)

  14. Leigh
    Paul Erickson

    Drew – spot on.  Public schools have their problems, but one of the largest is that they are the poor schlubs that have to implement all the liberal do-gooder progressive programs.

    My wife tells me (and I haven’t found a way to link to her so you’ll have to take my word) that at a nearby school district there were so many kids needing nutrition assistance that the first period of each day now includes distribution of school breakfast. 

    (Natch, the teacher’s union has filed a grievance for extra compensation for additional lunch duty.  But that’s a subject for another post.) · 0 minutes ago

    If the need is really there, breakfast is probably necessary, especially for the younger grades. Children who are hungry don’t do well in school.

    It’s not great of course — some parents will take advantage of it, and it’s just treating a symptom, but a school district can’t get at the social and political causes of the problem.

  15. Bereket Kelile

    I have a cousin who was once denied a discount on account of the fact that he had a very high GPA in college. The person on the phone actually said that.

  16. vb

    I’m a bottom-up type person.  I would prefer to see conservative groups working with local groups or churches to improve parenting skills. How many of the mothers of these kids know how to read to their kids or select books for them that transmit values? How many of the mothers know how to cook good cheap meals or know the value of regular mealtimes? Do they know how to talk with their kids when they are doing simple chores together about why they are doing something a particular way? Do they know how the importance of rites of passage and how a kid’s mastery of a skill can be tied to recognition of his or her making a step to adulthood.

    I think that if kids bond with their parents at a young age, that bond will remain even as the kid goes through the rebellious stage.

    Heck, I would even like parents to learn to use music with melodies when the kids are very young, so they don’t get completely caught up in the trashy rap they will be exposed to later.

  17. Bereket Kelile
    BrentB67

    Bereket Kelile: It’s not we, the voters, who need to win them over. As a private citizen you have the luxury to be as harsh as you want to be. It’s the elected officials who are voting on these policies who have to get votes. We want conservative candidates to get elected and make the changes we want to see. This is the starting point, as frustrating and disappointing as it may be. Politics is about persuasion. They can’t take the Jon Huntsman approach and villify the very people they need to vote for them.  · 12 minutes ago

    Bereket – It isn’t a luxury for me, and I am confident you either, to be as harsh as we want to be to those who aren’t as materially or financially blessed as us.

    It is OK for us to be outraged that we can’t be as compassionate as we want to be toward them because the long arm of government is constantly in our pocket.

    Your thought on the starting point are very appropriate. · 2 hours ago

    We are definitely free to win them over directly and communicate our ideas to them.

  18. Tom Lindholtz

    Seriously, Troy?  When’d you go to work shilling for the Democrats?

  19. Lucy Pevensie
    Tom Lindholtz: Seriously, Troy?  When’d you go to work shilling for the Democrats? · 20 minutes ago

    Tom, I don’t get it. Do you think this is an intelligent proposal?  How do you envision it working?

  20. Troy Senik, Ed.
    Tom Lindholtz: Seriously, Troy?  When’d you go to work shilling for the Democrats? · 25 minutes ago

    Isn’t one of our most long-standing criticisms of the other side that they refuse to acknowledge the disconnect between good intentions and bad public policy? Shouldn’t we be holding ourselves to a higher standard?

    I like the ostensible intent of this legislation: hold welfare recipients accountable. What I don’t like is that it (A) will fail at that task and (b) while failing, will make us look callous.

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