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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tenn. Bill Ties Welfare Benefits To Kids’ Grades

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, speaks to reporters outside the Senate chamber in Nashville, Tenn., on April 25, 2012, after the chamber passed his bill to  require drug testing as a condition for receiving welfare. He's now sponsoring a bill to tie welfare benefits to students' grades in school. (Erik Schelzig/AP)

Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, speaks to reporters outside the Senate chamber in Nashville, Tenn., on April 25, 2012, after the chamber passed his bill to require drug testing as a condition for receiving welfare. He’s now sponsoring a bill to tie welfare benefits to students’ grades in school. (Erik Schelzig/AP)

The Tennessee state senate will take up a bill tomorrow that ties a family’s welfare payments to its children’s school grades.

Parents whose children “fail to maintain satisfactory progress in school” would see a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) payments.

“What we’re saying is, if your child is failing, parents, you have to do something.”
– Sen. Stacey Campfield

For example, a single mother with two children who receives $185 a month would see her payment reduced to $129.50 a month.

The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Stacey Campfield, who says the measure would not affect any food or housing programs, and would not include children with physical or mental disabilities.

“If a child is failing, then we’re going to put some responsibility – not on the child – but on the parent,” Campfield told Here & Now’s Robin Young. “Perpetual failing children lead to another generation of poverty.”

Avoiding The Penalty

Amendments to the bill would allow families keep their full benefits if the parent takes steps to improve their children’s grades or their parenting skills.

“What we’re saying is, if your child is failing, parents, you have to do something. You have to, one, put your child in a tutoring program – we have them free all over the place. Or, you have to enter a parenting course – we have those free. Or, three, you just have to go to a parent-teacher conference. Or enter your child in summer school. If you do any of those things, you get your money. If you refuse to do any of those things – refuse – then yes, we’re going to take that money and put it back in the program and give it to people who will do those things to help get their children out of generational poverty,” he said.

Fierce Opposition

Critics say the law would put too much pressure on children, and also worry that in some cases kids could face physical abuse over their school performance.

Tennessee’s Clergy for Justice has organized a petition to defeat the bill.

Democrats are also strongly opposed to the bill, but it has strong support among Tennessee Republicans who hold a majority in both houses.

Republicans say the law would simply hold parents accountable for their children’s education and help break the cycle of poverty.

Would you support Tennessee’s plan to tie a family’s welfare benefits to its children’s grades in school? Join the debate on Facebook.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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