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It’s All About Education: Why Poverty Affects More than the Poor

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

 

One in every five children in America lives in poverty. That child may be hungry, and he may not know where his next meal is coming from. That child may be homeless, living with relatives, or living without utilities. That child may not have rain boots or a warm coat. That child may live in your city. 

In fact, here in Rhode Island, the statistics are consistent: in 2014, 19.8% of all kids, just under one in five, were growing up in poverty. According to RI KidsCount, 40% (84,008) of the Ocean State’s children were low-income, which means their families had incomes below 200% of the federal poverty threshold.

The 2014 federal poverty threshold was set at an annual income of $19,073 for a family of three with two children and $24,008 for a family of four with two children. Considering that average rent in the U.S. is over $900 per month, or $10,800 per year, there is not a lot of money left over for transportation, utilities, food, and clothing. 

How do we compare to other states? Rhode Island ranks 26th in the nation – and last in New England – for the percentage of children living in poverty. We can – and we must – look out for our youngest residents. Programs like RIDE’s Summer Food Service Program help, but that is only a piece of the puzzle. 

Last September, I wrote about the connection between affordable housing and strong schools. In Providence, according to RentJungle, the average rent is $1,242 per month. Back in 2012, GoLocalProv reported that a cost of living study showed that rent in RI is too high – and rent has not dropped since then. 

Research has shown that affordable housing affects education in many ways, among them by reducing the number of times a family moves, by removing sources of environmental stress, and by increasing parental spending on child enrichment activities. Strong, stable communities tend to have stronger, more stable schools. But making housing more affordable for our poorest families is only part of the answer. 

According to Annie E. Casey Foundation President Patrick McCarthy, improving outcomes for children living in poverty will require several social and economic measures such as tax credits, food stamps, and job training for parents. Policies that promote family-friendly workplaces would also help to support families struggling to make ends meet. 

A report released by UNICEF last year found that over 76 million children live in poverty in the 41 most affluent countries in the world. As a result of the recession, many more children slipped into poverty, and many countries responded by increasing benefits such as child care subsidies, tax credits, and extended paid parental leave. The report noted that, of all newly poor children in the OECD and/or EU, about one third live in the U.S. 

We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We pride ourselves on being a leader and a model of democracy. However, as I wrote last week, we have some of the least family-friendly policies of any developed nation. When some of our own citizens find it easier to raise children as expatriates living in other countries than it is to raise them here at home, we have a serious problem. 

Research shows that poverty has a significant impact on school performance. We know that income is more important than race in predicting the achievement gap politicians often rail against. A recent study also showed that poverty actually negatively affects a child’s developing brain. Ensuring that children growing up in our poorest families will have the same chance to succeed as their wealthier counterparts is critical to our country’s future. Poverty affects us all.  

Lauri Lee is an independent consultant with over twenty years of experience in both public and private education, with learners from infants through adults. With experience in teaching, marketing, communications, social media, development, admissions, and technology, she is able to synthesize many of the issues facing our educational system today. She lives in Providence, RI with her family, a big dog, and a small cat. She blogs at http://www.AllAboutEducation.net and you can follow her on Twitter at @fridovichlee. 

 

Related Slideshow: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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