Families' welfare could get cut if kids flunk

A Tennessee bill would reduce payments by up to a third if their children fail a grade. Would that help or harm?

By Aimee Picchi Mar 29, 2013 10:59AM
Image: Report card (© C Squared Studios/Getty Images)

Some lawmakers in Tennessee think they have the answer to helping poor students who are struggling in school: Reduce welfare payments to their families. 

How would it work? If a poor kid fails a grade, that family's welfare benefits could be cut by up to 30%. The theory is that the threat of less money would prompt the parents to pay attention to their child's learning and education. 

"It’s really just something to try to get parents involved with their kids," Sen. Stacey Campfield, who sponsored the legislation, told the Tennessean newspaper. "We have to do something."

An amended version of the bill -- which added tweaks such as limiting maximum penalties to parents who don't attend parent-teacher conferences -- passed a state Senate committee earlier this week, according to the publication. Special-needs students would be exempt. 

Research supports Campfield's premise that parental involvement will close the learning gap between the haves and have-nots. A 2007 Harvard Family Research Project study found that parental involvement for children in low-income families made a big difference in achievement.

But it remains to be seen if the threat of lower welfare payments could spur impoverished parents to action -- or even if teachers would fail those students, if they knew that could mean even more troubles at home. 

One thing is certain: Low-income students are at a huge disadvantage when compared with kids from wealthier families. Poor children often grow up with a "word gap," meaning they hear fewer spoken words from adults each day than do children from middle- or high-income homes. 

"In fact, by the time a child growing up in a low-income household reaches their fourth birthday, they will have heard 30 million fewer words than their peers in middle- and high-income households," according to the Mayors Challenge from Bloomberg Philanthropies

The charitable organization earlier this month awarded $5 million to Providence, R.I., for a program that seeks to close the word gap with young children. 

Tennessee's push comes as the state grapples with a rise in the number of families receiving welfare. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, welfare recipients in Tennessee have jumped 14% since 2007, when the recession started.

Campbell wrote on his blog on Tuesday that parents would have an "out" if they enroll the kids in tutoring, which he says is "free in every school I know of," or if they set up a tutoring program. Parents could also enroll themselves in a parenting course or attend multiple parent-teacher conferences to get their kids on track. 

He added, "If passed this could be a great step in ending generational poverty caused by lack of education."

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Mar 29, 2013 2:01PM
Make everyone collecting welfare work for it.  Make literacy mandatory and speaking English to collect welfare.  You will see how fast things change and people get off the dole.
Mar 29, 2013 2:08PM

It's a sad-sad-sad state we are in that people have to be forced to pay attention to their kids. But I totally believe it. My wife works for a school district and she tells me horror stories of kids who are basically ignored and who's primary language exposure is angry profanity. Parents that won't get out of bed to get their kids to school or won't show up to meetings with the school officials. They have no job but claim they have no time. And we can't expect these kids to grow up and do any differently... it's all they know.


We've created a welfare system that has destroyed entire generations of people's lives and made them completely unproductive citizens. We have an infrastructure that is crumbling but we give money to people to not work. This makes no sense and is no good for anybody involved. We need to wake up and make some changes or our society will have a painful day of reckoning.

Mar 29, 2013 2:08PM
I was a young mother and  received food stamp assistance while my oldest son was in elementary school.  He exceeded in vocabulary, reading, and math.  He was in the honors program during his entire academic career. Most of the time, he was the most advanced child in his class.  I am sure this statistic applies to some of the low-income households, but not all.  Just because you are poor does not mean you are uneducated and possess substandard intelligence. 
Mar 29, 2013 2:00PM

Sounds fair.  If the parents are on welfare, they don't work - correct?

So they should be home much of the time (when they're not: gambling, hooking

or dealing); and therefore, should have more time (than working moms & dads)

 to help with studies or make sure the kids hit the books.

Mar 29, 2013 2:14PM
Great idea!  Let's make this a national requirement!  And while we're at it, how about DRUG TESTING the adults!  

Does a community need light minor work done (pulling weeds, raking leaves, cleaning public restrooms, etc), have the welfare recipients do the work say 1-2 days a week.  No more sitting on their butts watching Jerry Springer & Maury Povich all day long.

America has too many free handouts!  

While I am against illegal immigration, I do tip my hat to the hard working Hispanic community.  Can you imagine if the welfare crowd had a strong work ethic like that?  We could American once again a great country.
Mar 29, 2013 2:04PM

Don't know about Tennessee but it would be a godsend in CA.  It would accelerate the desire to speak English.  It would cut the drop out rate which is approx. 2/3 by mid high school for welfare families, and no they don't get a job to support their families.  They don't give a rip.  It would put give parents an incentive to care about their childrens educations.

Go for it Tennessee cause it's never going to pass in Nuevo So. Cal.

Mar 29, 2013 1:57PM
This is a fantastic idea.  The maintaining a C idea is crap.  Everyone is different, but honestly there really isnt an excuse for a child to fail unless they have health issues or other mitigating factors.  

Just reading for 5 minutes at night when a child is young can do everything for a child.  5 minutes?  Thats too much to ask a parent to do every night?  

Welfare and Social services need to be adjusted so those who are deserving truly get it, while maybe the women who keep plopping out kids with no care or worry, except how much larger their welfare checks will be, need to be forced into being responsible, at least about the children they keep bringing into this world.  
Mar 29, 2013 2:18PM
WTF? The legislators just now learned this? We (the middle class) have been saying this for decades. If you just give an handout, without any responsibility, the recipient will just stagnate. No one in the government got the memo until now?
Really do they think this will work ??? Most of the welfare folks are just bums nothing else and the folks who really need welfare can't get it or only use it like it was designed to do a stop-gate until they get on there feet, but here in Pennsylvania where I live there are people who have been on welfare for years and parents are teaching there children how to use the system to there benefit and there is no way these bums will help there kids because they don't really care.
Mar 29, 2013 1:11PM

I have a different perspective...

taking away money that can be used on food to get children the nutrition they need does not help

children that are hungry cannot learn


the punishment will still hit the children. taking away the money to hurt the kids, the real issue is to take away the money and convert to reduce budgets... understood


why not take away the money from the parents and start a breakfast or afterschool food program for those receiving the bad grades and provide tutors. use students from colleges who are on grants etc...


parents who don't care about their children or who may be working waiting tables or for minimum wages may not have time to assist with the kids. there are sooooooooooooo many factors involved that should be assessed and identify what happens to the monies that are deducted.........

Mar 29, 2013 2:02PM

Why should parents care about their children's education when our nanny government will just step in and assist them throughout their life?!? Being fiscally responsible is not only wrong but racist and we will march in the streets to keep our children stupid and the government benefits flowing in!!!


I say this jokingly but many have a mindset not too far off from this!

Mar 29, 2013 2:11PM
It's certainly worth a try.  Maybe the threat of losing some money will prompt the parents to be more responsible.
Since welfare promotes the lowest IQ to have the majority of children today do you really expect any improvement? Saying parents get involved that is a joke as most are single family house holds.
Mar 29, 2013 1:59PM
What?  Hold people accountable for their actions?  Why, that's ridiculous!!  If anything, they should get more welfare if they flunk a grade.  Hell, extend that to drug users and gambling addicts - if those people are on the dole, they should definitely get more, not less!  We already reward unwed mothers every time they pop out another kid, why shouldn't other people be rewarded for their bad decisions, too?

In all seriousness, this would probably result in more kids getting promoted to the next grade regardless of their abilities.  "Uh, yeah, I know Johnny can't read, but I didn't want to see his family lose any of their welfare, so I promoted him to the 11th grade anyway."

Mar 29, 2013 12:47PM
What low expectations, change it to they have to maintain a C average at least and not in worthless libby arts classes.
Mar 29, 2013 2:16PM

Fabulous idea, it would make a parent more responsible and involved in the education of our future leaders.  Every parents responsibility is to raise their children to be productive, and contributing citizens

in society.  Without that guidance and opportunity children fail because they just do not know any better.   Every state adopt similiar programs.

Mar 29, 2013 2:09PM
Stop calling them "Welfare Recipients" they are Democrat voters!!!! Part of the "Gib me dats, You owes me dat!" society run by Barak Obama !!!! "Can I get a Right On?"
Mar 29, 2013 12:58PM

You are right about the fact that something has to be done, for the child, and by doing nothing and

allowing the status quo to continue is not working.   The rules have to start with all the participates required to sign the agreement.   That means the child is aware as well as the parents or parent so that no one can say they didn't know or understand the rules.  A progress report on a regular basis would be required to show where the child is on a time to react basis for all to see and respond to in a timely manner.   It is time for the children to really make a difference on all of our futures.

Mar 29, 2013 3:37PM

While we are at it:


We should cut politicians' salaries by a third when they are caught lying


We should cut cops' salaries by a third when they are caught lying


We should cut athletes' salaries by a third when they are caught cheating


We should cut bible thumpers' noses  by a third when they are caught being hypocrites



Mar 29, 2013 2:52PM
limiting the number of kids that can be produced while on welfare would be a good first step. too many children come in to this world only because someone wants a larger check, or because they mistakenly believe it is their right to have children and make the system pay the cost of raising them. while it is their right to reproduce, it is not their right to expect society to pay for these children.
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