Some states are considering linking family public assistance benefits with the children’s school performance. States determine the need of the families, and those that qualify receive assistance that includes food, shelter, clothing, heating fuel, electricity, household supplies. As far back as 1996, former governor Rowland proposed denying welfare benefits to families with truant children. Last September legislation in Michigan parents whose children are truant may lose welfare benefits.
Last week, Senator Campfield of Louisiana introduced controversial legislation that would tie benefits not only to attendance, but to school performance as well. “If children are school-aged the parent(s) must assent to a Family Service Agreement document that, among others things, provides penalties for truancy among those children (being absent or excessively tardy at least five times a term). On the first offense, the family is to lose a month’s worth, one-twelfth, of benefits; a second draws another two months’ worth and the third kicks them out of the program for a minimum of three months. Senator Campfield maintains that tying benefits to assistance would encourage parents to take an active role in their children’s education.
Of course, most people would support certainly parental involvement in their children’s education. However, this particular proposal appears punitive. He is calling for “satisfactory academic progress.” That comment appears nebulous. What does that designation mean for individual students? Who would put objective measurements in place?
Rather than punishing parents, why not offer incentives that encourage them to become full partners with teachers and school personnel? For instance, parents who attend school functions such as regular teacher conferences or “back to school nights” may receive some additional assistance in the form of vouchers for certain items like school supplies or even items of clothing. Those parents who are able to volunteer in some capacity could receive additional compensations. Others whose students not only attend school but who consistently perform can receive monetary or service rewards. The goal is to encourage parents, not to punish them.