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Tennessee lawmaker wants to cut welfare benefits for bad report cards

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There seems to be no end to the number of wacky school reform ideas. Now a Tennessee state senator wants to cut welfare payments to families whose kids get really bad report cards and test scores.

State Sen. Stacey Campfield (R) said he thinks it’s a great way to “break the cycle of poverty,” according to the Knoxville News Sentinel, and he has proposed legislation, SB132  to make it state law.

On his own blog, Campfield wrote:

One of the top tickets to break the chain of poverty is education. To achieve a quality education is like a three legged stool. The state has put a lot of responsibility on schools and teachers to improve student performance. If the children don’t produce, it could impact the pay of the teacher and the standing of the school with the state. We have pushed two of the three legs of the student performance (teachers and schools) to improve, and they are.


While those two legs are important, one other leg has proven to be more important. The third leg has shown to have a greater impact on the children performance than  the school, than the teacher, than race of the child, than the income of the parent, than the location of the student.


The third leg of the stool (probably the most important leg) 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.



According to Tom Humphrey of the Sentinel, current Tennessee law already stipulates that parents whose children do not attend school can lose 20 percent of their benefits from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Campfield’s bill “raises the penalty to 30 percent of benefits” if a child isn’t making “satisfactory” progress in school, he wrote.

What exactly is “satisfactory”? Humphrey wrote: “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 in trouble.

Campfield is right to say that out-of-school influences have a big effect on student achievement. How he got from that to thinking that kids will be helped by losing public benefits for getting bad grades and test scores is a mystery. Accountability is one thing. This is something else. Grade: F.


Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · February 5, 2013

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