Poverty of Spirit

Boy Reading

Here’s one that died a quiet death earlier this week:

The majority of public school students are living in poverty. Seems like the kind of thing you’d have heard about, doesn’t it? Yet, it showed up was briefly discussed and fell off the news cycle. We had other more important things to talk about, like ‘Did the Patriots fully inflate the game balls?’

So, here goes one more time: For the first time in 50 years the majority of children attending public schools come from low income families.

The Southern Education Foundation is reporting that 51% of K-12 graders qualify for school free or reduced price lunches. That’s more than half.

It’s not just about the food, though. Because children from lower income families often don’t have the advantages of preschool, and so show up at Kindergarten trailing their more affluent peers. Research suggests that these poorer children never make up that gap. It follows them throughout their school careers, and affects whether they go to college or even finish high school.

The highest concentration of poverty is in the south and the west. In 21 states, at least half the public school children were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches — ranging from Mississippi, where more than 70 percent of students were from low-income families, to Illinois, where one of every two students was low-income.

With figures like these how do we except poorer children to overcome the obstacles they face? We’ve already gutted funding for Head Start, choosing to punish poor children and doom them to the financial strata they were born into.

There seems to be little political will to fund preschool for poorer families, instead letting low income families take the brunt of underfunded programs and curricula.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that as the gap between poorer and wealthier students grows the advantages continue to accumulate for students of better means. As those advantages continue to rack up, those wealthier students will do better in school and college and ultimately in their post-college careers.

We are quite simply dooming lower income children to a cycle of poverty. And it really does seem like no one gives a tinker’s damn.

Republicans are dead set against spending more money on early childhood development, choosing instead to punish poor children for having the audacity to pick poor parents. They prefer to ‘streamline programs’ which is code for cut. They would prefer to give parents vouchers for charter or private schools, a program which itself is not proven to work, and in fact is only an advantage to parents who can physically transport their children to a better school or district. It does nothing to address the fact that many local schools are woefully underfunded and do not have the resources to provide children with an adequate education. It does not answer the question of what we do for children who can’t take advantage of the voucher program. Those children exist and wishing them away won’t work.

This report was released just ahead of the Congressional debate about how to best rewrite the federal education law. Some are asking for the law to focus on schools and student’s needs, rather than them hitting certain benchmarks and being punished or sanctioned if they fail to meet standards. Poorer schools with children already struggling are not able to meet certain standards, and taking resources away from them only serves to punish poor children even further.

It is almost impossible to overstate the impact that poverty has on education. If it didn’t have an impact so many children whose parents can afford it wouldn’t be in private schools. Private schools are able to provide better opportunities for learning through their greater resources, and because often parents have the time to invest in their children’s education. It’s pointless to be angry that some parents do not have the time to invest in their children’s education – often these are parents working 2 minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. Many are doing the very best they can.

And what of the parents many think could do better? What if they don’t? Are you comfortable condemning some poor child who doesn’t know better into the cycle of poverty? Are you OK with that?

What does it say about us as a nation that more than half of public school attendees come to school hungry? It says we have 2 school systems – 2 unique but not equal school systems. One for the poors and one for the rest.

All these 2 school systems will serve to do is further economically segregate our children. We’ve already cut out early-childhood services and after-school programs. What’s next? Cut out the books or teachers until those poor children learn how not to be poor?

We have a problem in this country. We hate our poor, and we blame them for their position in life. We’ve taken that animosity and spread out to poor children, which makes us heartless. Yes, it’s not enough to look down upon and punish poor adults, we need to share that behavior with their children and shame them, too.

So, as Congress reviews the disastrous policies of No Child Left Behind some of us will be hoping that there will be room in school budgets for nutritious food and programs that will help lift poor children out of the poverty of mind and soul.

For truly, how much poverty of spirit must you have to see a hungry child and think that’s something you can live with?



  1. “…What does it say about us as a nation that more than half of public school attendees come to school hungry?…”

    It says a lot of people have children who shouldn’t be having them.

    This question implies that because someone procreates irresponsibly when they’re in marginal circumstances to begin with and unable to provide for their offspring, it’s automatically the fault and responsibility of someone else.

    There are more restrictions in place to ride a moped than there are for creating a human life, without regard as to one’s qualifications to care for a child.



    1. So, you would starve children? Hungry children aren’t a hypothetical – they are here among us.

      You would get in your time machine and have people not procreate. Fantasy aside, you offer no answers to what to do with hungry children.

      Do you think we should starve them?



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