by Brian Washington/image courtesy of World Bank Photo
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Almost half of all students who attend public schools—48 percent—reside in low income households, with an alarming number living at or below the poverty line. Some of those students are in Tracey Pratt’s class in the Cambridge Public School District in Massachusetts, where she says students coming from impoverished homes are usually at a deficit before they even enter the classroom, which makes learning difficult.
“The students don’t have the same level of preparation for school,” said Pratt, a sixth grade math teacher, who says students from low-income families, as compared to those from wealthier homes, are entering Pre-K and kindergarten at a disadvantage and have a hard time catching up. “Their parents don’t have the same money or same resources as other families—whether it’s being able to pay for a tutor for a child that needs support or having enough free time available to help a student access services that are at school.”
However, according to a new report, the poverty rates for Cambridge public school students—which stands at 45 percent (as measured by the amount receiving free and reduced price lunch)—and those across the nation could get much worse, thanks to a concerted, national effort by the most powerful political lobbies in the country to reduce the wages, benefits, and rights of working people. The report shows that the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC, is using its members, conservative state lawmakers and the business lobby, to get state legislatures across the nation to approve laws in favor of the rich, multi-national corporations, and fat-cat CEOs.
Gordon Lafer, a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which released the report on Thursday, points out that ALEC, which has led the attack on teachers, police officers, nurses, and other public employees and their unions in states like Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, calls itself the “champion” of hardworking taxpayers and non-union private workers. However, Lafer warns, don’t be fooled.
“They advocate abolishing the minimum wage, making food stamps and unemployment insurance something that you have to work off at minimum wage or work for free if there is no minimum wage,” said Lafer. “The people who are affected by these things are the vast majority of American workers who don’t have a union.”
If ALEC’s concerted effort to get anti-worker laws approved through state legislatures across the country is successful, more families will be forced into poverty—which will ultimately mean more children in poverty and more students facing an uphill battle in the classroom.
“Yes, I don’t think there is any question about that,” said Lafer. “All of these things, as well as the attacks on unions, are things which will drive up poverty.”
Some of the reports key findings highlight several instances where ALEC has triumphed over American workers and the middle class and include the following:
- Four states have passed laws restricting the minimum wage;
- Four states have lifted restrictions on child labor; and
- Sixteen states have imposed new limits on benefits for the unemployed.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers in legislatures nationwide are considering ALEC-backed bills that, if approved, would accomplish the following:
- Strip workers of overtime rights;
- Repeal or restrict rights to sick leave;
- Undermine workplace safety protections;
- Make it harder to sue employers for race or sex discrimination;
- Make it harder for employees to recover unpaid wages; and
- Ban local cities and counties from establishing minimum wages or rights to sick leave.
At the same time it’s pushing legislation to undermine the economic stability of hardworking taxpayers, ALEC and its allies—including big corporations looking to turn a profit on the backs of public school students and chambers of commerce in several states—are doing all they can to close the door on one of the most viable options to climb out of economic despair—a quality public education.
ALEC is driving many of the flawed K-12 polices that rob public schools of valuable funding and strip educators of their voice to advocate for and teach what is best for students. These policies include plans to enact voucher schemes that siphon off public funding for private schools, for-profit charters, the parent trigger, and proposals to link high-stakes student testing to teacher salaries.
According to Lafer, these groups say they’re interested in helping poor and urban students but nothing could be further from the truth.
When you look at the things that impact educational performance, one of the strongest things, by far, when you look at statistical studies, is poverty,” said Lafer. “And so (for ALEC) to be pushing education reform and saying they’re for solving the education gap while advancing these policies that will make poverty worse is totally hypocritical or incompatible.
Meanwhile, the threat of more children entering poverty leaves Pratt concerned about the future of her students and the struggles that lie ahead for them.
“Every child wants to do well in school, and every parent wants their child to do well,” said Pratt. “But if you go home and there’s no food in the house or not enough to eat, that is going to prevent you from doing your best in the classroom and will ultimately put your level education in jeopardy.”
Sign our petition and take a stand against ALEC and the big corporations trying to undermine our students and their families.