There has been very encouraging economic news over the past two years including the longest job-growth stretch in several decades, steady GDP growth, record Wall Street profits, and record corporate incomes. However, as the economy is growing at a steady clip, the middle class is rapidly declining and the poor can hardly make ends meet despite working and producing wealth for the rich and powerful. That is a shameful enough, but now it is certain that the segment of the population suffering the effects of the GOP-created income inequality most are, as usual, America’s children. Instead of any real measures or support to address the crushing income disparity between the 1% and the rest of the population, Republicans are proposing harsher measures to shift more wealth to the rich at the expense of those who need it most; families with children.
In a report released late last week by the Southern Education Foundation (SEF); for “the first time in at least 50 years” more than half of America’s public school children live in low-income homes. The report revealed that over 51% of students in grades K through 12 qualified as low income and received free or reduced-price school lunches in 2013. What that means in real life terms is that over half of America’s students are in families earning slightly above, at, or below the federal poverty line. All while the wealthiest Americans have been recipients of 80% of the economic recovery and the rest of the population has faced declining or stagnating incomes by deliberate Republican design.
This is not a new development, and although the numbers have exploded since the Bush-Republican recession, the trend began in the 1980s when Reagan Republicans convinced Americans that giving more money to the rich would benefit the masses and create prosperity in the form of a vibrant middle class. According to the report that analyzed data by the National Center for Education Statistics; in 1989 the figure was under 32 percent. In 2006, it grew to 42 percent, and by 2011 it climbed to 48 percent. In 2013 it was 51 percent amid economic growth for the rich and utter stagnation for the rest of the population.
What should come as no surprise to any American is that the data show the majority of students in 21 states are poor and that two-thirds of them live in third-world Southern states; states that have always had a high concentration of students in poverty but more-so with the advent of right to work laws and attacks on union jobs. The report noted that in Mississippi for example, nearly three-quarters of all public school students live in families that “qualify as low income or poverty;” the conditions Republicans plan to keep their ignorant, racist, and religious base living in with right to work laws and fierce opposition to middle-class union jobs and raising the minimum wage.
The numbers are telling about the conditions cash-strapped public schools are experiencing, and that teachers forced to educate higher numbers of low-income students are surmounting. The vice-president of the SEF noted that part of the problem in the South is the number of families relocating to regions seeking “the right to work” at lower wages jobs that is a relatively new phenomenon exacerbating an already pressing problem for schools and educators.
Any school teacher will attest to the fact that the students from low-income families tend to arrive at school with completely different needs than students from solidly middle-class and affluent families. They actually have pressing issues such as being hungry, medical problems, poverty-related stress and behavioral issues, and need extra academic help because their parents struggle to feed and clothe them despite working more than one poverty-wage job.
As reported here two weeks ago, low-income students plight is the polar opposite of their wealthier peers who succeed in academics due to less stress at home and higher school funding that provides music, sports, private tutoring and trips to cultural events. Poor students likely attend deliberately under-funded schools that are left to fill in the gaps.
President Obama said he plans to request an additional $1 billion in 2016 for a program to funnel more money to schools with high percentages of poor students. Based on his privatization-minded Education Secretary, one is hopeful that the President ignores counsel from Arne Duncan and earmarks the money for public schools; not grossly under-performing private charter schools taking a larger percentage of public schools funding and not reaching low-income students. The president of the National Education Association suggests that the President “look at public schools in the wealthiest communities as models of what all schools should offer;” and it does not mean more private charter schools.
The SEF spokesman said “We in no way are providing schools and teachers in schools with what it takes to educate low-income students today, as they continue to become a huge part of the school population.” In a good sign President Obama may be paying attention, a spokeswoman for the Education Department said that “Now more than ever, it is critical that we as a country ensure ‘schools’ have the resources and support necessary to prepare every student — no matter his or her ZIP code — for college, careers and life.” One only hopes the spokeswoman was referring to “public schools,” and not private charter schools.
What that entails, according to critics of the growing anti-public education policy, is that schools abandon the narrow focus on standards and testing as the way of measuring whether poorer students are getting equal opportunities. That policy is holdover from the Bush-Boehner “No Child Left Behind” scam designed to ensure school failures to hasten school privatization; a policy the Duncan Education Department is following closely regardless the scam designation known as ‘Race To the Top.”
There is a simpler solution to the problem that schools and teachers face in struggling to teach low-income students that does not entail yet another cycle of new and improved education policy: more living wage jobs. It is no coincidence that the rise in the number of public school students living in poverty or low-income families correlates with the thirty-year middle class decline.
However, now that the Koch brothers control Congress, the idea of a minimum wage hike, tax reform benefitting the poor and middle class, or a substantial funding increase for poor schools is just that; a nice idea. Besides, now Republicans can celebrate that they have reached the tipping point and eclipsed the half-way mark in the number of American public school students living in low-income families; a statistic that would shame any decent American living in the richest nation on Earth. It is just too bad that the number of decent Americans does not include Republicans or their shameless racist religious base.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.