Saying his intention is to try a new way to “break the cycle of poverty,” Knoxville Sen. Stacey Campfield has introduced sure-to-be-controversial legislation tying a low-income child’s educational progress to the aid his or her parents receive from the state.
A member of the Senate Education Committee, Campfield told TNReport.com recently that his aim is to place “more accountability on people who are on government benefits.”
Senate Bill 132 would establish mechanisms for reducing Temporary Assistance to Needy Families payments for TANF recipients whose children fail to maintain satisfactory progress in school. According to the Tennessee Legislature’s website, the bill doesn’t yet have a House sponsor.
“Right now, the only top ticket out is education for people in poverty,” said Campfield, a Republican who served three terms in the Tennessee House of Representatives before winning his state Senate seat in 2010. “And what we have a lot of times are people in poverty who don’t care if their kids graduate, go to school or not.”
Campfield noted that state government has over the past couple years shouldered teachers with more responsibility for ensuring Tennessee’s public school children show marked improvement. Parents of under-performing kids need to share the load, he said. “We have to have parents who say it’s important that my kid goes to school,” said Campfield.
Last year the Legislature nearly unanimously passed a bill that established a pilot program geared toward encouraging greater parental involvement in a student’s academics, particularly in poorly performing schools. Sponsored by Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, the legislation launched a system for parents of young children in the state’s worst schools to grade themselves on the direction and discipline the child gets at home.
In Campfield’s view, more can be done. In particular, parents on welfare need to be on the hook for kids who chronically play hookey, he said. If a child misses a lot of days, doesn’t take classwork seriously or quits school all together, “then it should come back on the parents.”
“There has to be some accountability,” Campfield said. “We’re not going to keep paying for you to have kids who are quitting school and repeating the cycle of poverty generation after generation.” He said it is not acceptable for children to say, “‘Well, my parents never graduated and they’re doing OK, so why should I graduate?’
“We’ve just got to break that,” said Campfield.
Amelia Hipps and Mark Engler contributed to this report.