By Mike Armstrong
KSBA Executive Director
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
To promote and positively impact the economic future of the Commonwealth, the 2017 Kentucky General Assembly passed several education-specific bills intended to address challenges in education and education-related delivery systems. But there remains one topic that still has a deep and profound ill-impact on both teaching and learning: poverty.
Data published in 2017 affirmed that while non-Hispanic whites still constitute the largest single group of Americans living in poverty, ethnic minority groups are overrepresented, according to a recent report, “The Effects of Poverty, Hunger and Homelessness on Children and Youth,” by the American Psychological Association. The Population Reference Bureau reported in 2010 that a quarter of U.S. children under 18 live in a single-mother family. The poverty rate for children living in female-householder families (no spouse present) was 42.2 percent compared with less than 32 percent of children living in other types of families. That breaks down to a staggering 50.9 percent poverty rate for female-headed Hispanic households and 48.8 percent for black female heads of household with children below 18.
Looking at the big picture, a 2013 UNICEF report that examined child well-being in 29 “rich” countries ranked the U.S. 26th, lagging behind, among others, Slovenia and Estonia.
Poverty continues to be a major barrier to learning, linked with negative conditions such as substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition and food insecurity, inadequate child care, lack of access to health care, unsafe neighborhoods, and under-resourced schools. Poorer children and teens are also at greater risk for negative outcomes such as poor academic achievement, school dropout, abuse and neglect, behavioral/socioemotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays, the APA report said.
Another facet of poverty is the transiency of this population, which can cause “household insecurity and broader community disadvantage” instead of greater opportunity, according to “Poverty, Housing Insecurity and Student Transiency in Rural Areas,” a report by The Center on Rural Education and Communities at Penn State University.
Kentucky’s traditional public schools open their doors to every student who presents for enrollment. Yet the resources school boards need to fully support and even strengthen poverty-stricken families – such as more support for high-quality early childhood education – are sadly lacking. Increased funding for district-provided student transportation would allow cash-strapped districts to redirect both state and local funds to important programs – including school-based after-school programs. Continued support is needed for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs which are, for many students, their only daily sustenance. Maintaining funding for advanced coursework and innovative course supports, directed toward students in poverty, will reap benefits for this group who have too long gone with little to no access to the opportunities derived from these courses.
In Sean Slade’s blog “Poverty Affects Education-And Our Systems Perpetuate It” (2015) he writes, “The benefit we have is that we know what we need to take to make a difference in the longer term and even within the current systems. There are steps we can take tomorrow in our classrooms and this year in our policy decisions. We know the direction the trend is heading and we know the consequences of inaction, but are we ready to make the change?”