Bill Would Tie Welfare Benefits to Child School Performance

State Sen. Stacey Campfield has proposed legislation that would cut welfare benefits to parents whose children fail to make “satisfactory academic progress” in school, a move he says should inspire parents to take a more active role in helping students learn.
While the Knoxville Republican says SB132 is a step toward “breaking the cycle of poverty,” Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, says it could make life more difficult for parents and children who are already struggling.
Campfield said in an interview that the best way to “break the cycle of poverty” is through education and a child’s success in schooling rests on a “three-legged stool” – teachers, schools and parents.(Note: His blog post on the bill is HERE.)
He said Tennessee has already embarked on education reforms designed to improve the quality of teachers and the quality of schools. There should also be a focus on the “third leg,” parents, he said.
“We’ve set the tone (through legislation) to push and improve teachers and schools,” Campfield said. “Now is the time to push those parents. This bill is giving them motivation to do more to help their children learn in school.”

“If the family doesn’t care if the child goes to school or does well in school, the odds of that child getting out of poverty are pretty low,” the senator said.
O’Neal stressed that the Commission on Children and Youth has not taken an official position on the bill and will not until a Feb. 22 meeting of the child advocacy group, but said Campfield’s proposal raises concerns on several fronts.
The bill applies to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Current law says parents or guardians of children who are receiving benefits can lose 20 percent of those benefits if a child does not attend school. Campfield’s bill adds a new requirement that the child make “satisfactory academic progress” as well and raises the penalty to 30 percent of benefits.
“The maximum benefit for a mother with two children is $185 a month,” O’Neal said in an interview. “That’s already low. If you take $60 plus dollars away, you’re just further limiting people who already have extremely few resources… It’s just piling on.”
The bill defines “satisfactory academic progress” as advancing from one grade to the next and “receiving a score of proficient or advanced on required state examinations in the subject areas of mathematics and reading/language arts.” Those who fail to meet “competency” standards on end-of-course exams could also be deemed fall short of “satisfactory academic progress.”
Special education students “who are not academically talented or gifted” would be exempted from the requirements.
O’Neal said the definition could take in students who are trying their best but are simply unable to meet standards through no fault of their own or their parents.
“The challenge is that there are many children who may be doing their best and just have not been diagnosed for special ed or they may be in schools that have failed them,” she said.
Further, O’Neal said the bill, if enacted, would create a new paperwork burden on schools and the Department of Human Services, which oversees the welfare program, to determine when children are making the “satisfactory academic progress” as required.
Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said he would oppose the bill because it would “stack the deck against at-risk children.”
“How does Sen. Campfield expect a child to do his homework when there is no food on the dinner table,” Kyle said.
O’Neal also voiced misgivings about another Campfield bill, SB30, which is intended to crack down on those who use their electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards to purchase inappropriate items. EBT cards are like a pre-paid debit card and issued for both TANF benefits and food stamps.
Current law limits what can be purchased with the cards. Campfield’s bill provides more detail and sets up penalties both for those who accept the cards for inappropriate purchases and those who use them. Various news reports and a Beacon Center of Tennessee review of EBT data in Knoxville and Chattanooga last fall have found cases of the cards used in strip clubs, bars, tobacco stores, expensive hotels and the like.
“This is just restricting it to those who are truly in need versus those who are abusing the system,” said Campfield, adding that he knows food stamp recipients who support his proposal because those using the cards inappropriately “give them a bad name.”
O’Neal said she suspects the reported abuses are “extremely isolated cases.” Some may be explained as cases where the recipients got funds from a business using the card, then used the money to buy food, clothing or other necessities – not to make a purchase from the business that shows up on card records, she said.
Both Campfield and O’Neal noted that federal law on the matter changed fairly recently. O’Neal suggested that the Department of Human Services be given time to review those changes and adapt with the goal of eliminating misuse of EBT card while Campfield said the changes open the door for legislation such as his bill and that DHS officials have indicated they will work with him on the proposed legislation.

16 thoughts on “Bill Would Tie Welfare Benefits to Child School Performance

  1. Joe

    I have a better idea. How about you have to skip a generation each time a familiy goes on welfare? I have no problem supporting anyone as long as effort is made to better the situation. So 1st generation can take the welfare and other governmant assistance so they can make a better life for their children.
    What I do not like is anyone thinking the government owes them a good life etc. just becuase they live in America. America is a land of oportunity, not handouts….

  2. Sabo PIke

    The problem you are addressing doesn’t actually exist. If you checked the actual numbers you would find few people remain on welfare for long periods of time. There are people who are the first to fall off the bus when the economy goes bad and may return to the roles, however.

  3. Laurie Malcolm

    Children’s grades? How idiotic. We do have children who have great limitations. How about tying it to parental involvement? Completion of homework? Support of school rules? Attending parent-teacher conferences? Grades alone is a ridiculous idea.

  4. Sebastian Ludlow

    How about tyring the intelligence of voters in East Tennessee to their right to vote? It’s obvious that not only is Stacey Campfield an idiot (same Stacey Campfield who was giving unsolicited medical advice by blaming AIDS on a gay airline pilot having sex with a monkey and calling the disease “virtually impossible” to contract via heterosexual intercourse) but so are the people that voted for this stupidity. You teabillies really are destroying this country.

  5. Lin M

    I find it reprehensible that benefits of this type would be tied to academic performance. While it is true that parental involvement is a positive influence on academic performance is not dispositive of it. To believe otherwise is to believe that the SINGULAR cause of a child not making academic progress is lack of active parental involvement or support. It also does not reconcile with the fact that many children excel in the total absence of parental involvement. No matter what guise anyone uses to support this proposed legislation, there is a fundamental and abhorrent disregard for the most important and precious aspect of the legislation – THE CHILD. Can anyone fool themselves into believing that in the event a family’s benefits are cut that the child will not become ultimately aware that it occurred as a result of his/her academic performance? Is anyone truly that naïve or just that callous? Are the psychological, emotional or social ramifications of that impact on the child to be ignored? Indeed, what is ultimately revealed through this proposal is that Republican State Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville is not representing the interest of the most precious of his constituents – the children of Tennessee; he is terribly short sighted and is equally naïve or extremely callous. Shame on him.

  6. vmt

    This is wrong on so many levels.
    1. If the idea is to motivate parents to be more active in their children’s education, there are plenty of parents who are actively involved in their children’s schooling, and yet a child can still fail. So, a child who fails is not necessarily a reflection of a parent’s involvement.
    2. What if the parent is illiterate and basically incapable of helping their children. What if a parent works 2 jobs to make ends meet and doesn’t have a whole lot of free time on their hands to help their children with their math homework.
    3. What if a child has a bad teacher? The teacher is part of the equation.
    There are so many variables that impact a child’s success in school.
    So a child struggles in school, and as a result, we cut what help they get so they go hungry, or don’t have shoes, or don’t get their medicine if they need it.
    Isn’t the goal to emphasize the importance of education in breaking out of poverty. HOW DOES THIS HELP?

  7. PCP812

    “What I do not like is anyone thinking the government owes them a good life etc. just becuase they live in America. America is a land of oportunity, not handouts….”
    Do you know how much a mother of two gets in welfare benefits every month? $185. That’s it. Being on welfare is not “a good life.” Newsflash, buddy: Reagan was lying through his teeth when he told the story about the “Welfare Queen.”

  8. RexfordSwain

    This is a good way to turn the notch way up on child abuse. This demographic is prone to violence enough as it is without placing the burden for income on the kids. “Stack(ing the deck) against at-risk children” is a gross understatement. They will be beaten and worse when the parents/guardians find out they don’t have enough drug money that month. This kind of thing gets ratcheted up until EVERYONE is having their incomes decimated due to this kind of law. Everyone will be subject to this penalty and government intrusion on privacy. This isn’t just short-sighted; it’s reckless.

  9. nat-a-tat

    Most children who are food insecure (a lot of them welfare participants) go to school hungry and can’t focus in school, which is why they tend to have low grades. To punish them for that by giving them even less food is reprehensible.
    Tennessee should be ashamed.

  10. Baruch

    Mr. Campfield do you really think kids will do better in school if they are hungry and cold at home? Are you a complete idiot or just plain mean? Let me guess, you call yourself a christian. You are a hateful man, no doubt about it, and/or just not too smart.

  11. Catherine

    This was one of the more stupid things I have awakened to hear on the news! Each time I have hope that we aren’t becoming more ignorant in this country something like this pulls me back in!
    Tying food and health welfare to a child’s school attendance and progress? Way to decrease child abuse Campfield. Make more pressure on the children of struggling families. That’s sure to help.
    Why not re-vamp the entire Medicaid program. Why should there be MORE pay for every child being born into welfare families. Make a flat family rate and from the money saved develop incentives to give MORE funds for school attendance, parents going to work, drug testing, birth control etc. Make child care available (how about a cooperative of the welfare families offering childcare programs, school car pooling, after school care, and tutoring. Get a team of people working in the field to do some brain storming on ideas. I think we have run dry of them in WA. The welfare families need to get more involved in their own care needs and be made to volunteer at some of these positive things in order to increase their benefits from the flat rate. Develope functional vocational rehab programs because that is an entire other problem. Collect child support from parents not in the home. Why is this program an entitlement and punishment baased program. Make it an incentive program. PARENTs have to earn the services.
    It sounds as if someone should have reduced income to some of our leaders if they didn’t excel in school if this is the kind of solutions coming out of WA.

  12. Chris Gamble

    Poverty is a well documented causal risk factor for at risk students. This legislation will increase poverty levels for those most at risk. Furthermore penalizing children for low grades seems to be missing the point, we want to increase human capital and to do that you want to build success in the population not use fear and intimidation to misguidedly try to force families to increase their children’s grades. Parents of children who are failing and on welfare are statistically more likely to not have the skill-sets for success themselves. Maybe they should use the colossal bureaucratic funds to find a way to create early intervention for these children and try to divert as many as possible for the continuation of the cycle of poverty in their families.

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