Monday, April 1, 2013

Tennessee, Welfare, and Fairness

There's an article today about the Tennessee State Legislature is pushing a bill to tie a family's welfare money to their children's test scores. It's the sort of thing that sells because it's easy to demonize welfare recipients to an audience not on welfare but still struggling to pay their bills. My wife and I just paid our bills and it was tough watching the money go that fast, but we accept it as a result of how we live rather than the fault of other people. The Tennessee State Legislature is playing a blame game to score cheap points on the backs of those who are already struggling.

I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear that there are politicians like this!

Yeah, not really.

It brings to mind something that came up at the school I worked at years ago. We used to take trips with students. We visited Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks for three days, camped overnight in parks all over the state, visited Albany and Washington D.C., and took seniors to the Jersey Shore. The trips were integral to the school. We worked with kids who hadn't come to school much in the past, who struggled to belong anywhere, and who ran into conflict a lot. Through trips, we helped students develop skills, enjoy school, and have new experiences.

Every year there was discussion about who should or should not be allowed to go on the trips. A group of us knew that every kid had to go, no question. The trips were not benefits earned, they were essential just as going to class and doing homework were seen as essential. It's just that the trips were perceived as more fun than classes or homework.

When something is fun, it's easy to mistake it as non-essential. Fortunately, we remembered that the trips were not rewards and we took everyone.

The Tennessee state legislators who are trying to pass this bill see welfare as a free ride. They worry that people are taking advantage. They don't want to pay for someone else's well-being. I can understand that, but it is still just selfishness in political form. They are missing the point as much as tying school trips to performance misses the point.

Welfare is one thing, school is another. The denial of welfare as some sort of incentive for studious behavior mistakenly links two disparate things and puts an unreasonable burden on children. Demanding that Johnny, who comes from poverty already, be the primary determinant his family's well-being is too much. It's too mean-spirited. It is just plain wrong.

The only logic is that of political gamesmanship. This is a ploy to score points with a certain voting block. It ignores the true nature of poverty and expects the public to be simple-minded enough to accept this foolishness.

After our discussions at that school, we took all the kids on the trips in order to be true to our purpose of educating all the children with whom we were entrusted. To do less would have been to forget our purpose. The Tennessee State Legislature has forgotten their purpose to serve the people. They are serving only themselves to the detriment of their constituents.

Calling them on it is just one more reason to write on.