The Three Most Serious Problems for U.S. Public Education in 2023

The new year is a good time to stop and consider where our society stands in terms of its public priorities. During the first week of 2023, this blog will consider three overall problems of federal public education policy that undermine our public schools, their teachers, and our children. On Thursday, the topic will be serious concerns at the state level, with a focus on my state, Ohio.

In a wonderful post last week at Curmuducation, Peter Greene examined 11 different conditions that imperil public schooling as we begin 2023. Two of the threats to public schooling he identifies in the past year rise to a level of importance above all the others: “the Don’t Trust the Schools Movement” and “High Stakes Testing.”

I agree with Greene’s assessment, with one difference: He traces the “Don’t Trust the Schools Movement” in 2023 to the culture warriors who attack the teaching of so-called critical race theory, who won’t let teachers say “gay,” and who think teachers are somehow grooming children.  He’s right about that, but I think we should also remember that the culture war attacks are merely the most recent strand of a four-decades long attack that began in 1983 with the Ronald Reagan-era, A Nation at Risk report, which blamed the public schools for undermining America’s position in the world.

So… what do I believe are the three greatest perils facing public schooling as we begin 2023?

Peril #1: “High Stakes Testing” and the “Don’t Trust the Schools Movement ” are together being used to discredit America’s system of public education.

In 2001, Congress prescribed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as the cure for A Nation at Risk‘s diagnosis of “failing” public schools. NCLB brought us high stakes school accountability as embodied in annual standardized testing along with punishments for the schools unable to raise test scores every year. The 2001, NCLB “solution” to our “failing” public schools was, of course, what Peter Greene calls this year’s second huge threat: “High Stakes Testing.” We need to remember that high states standardized testing is very much still with us. For decades now the press and the testing companies and the accountability hawks have bombarded society with the message that standardized test scores must stay on a perpetual upward trajectory. Even when a worldwide pandemic and consequent school closures temporarily disrupted the trajectory of ever rising scores, many people, therefore, came to fear that our children have “lost decades of improvement.”

But the damage of the annual high-stakes testing is deeper and more insidious in all the ways the testing undermines and discredits our public system of education.  Testing, with all of the drilling and narrowing what’s being taught, has undermined teaching. In NCLB, Congress also tied scores to teacher evaluation in a way that was shown to be unreliable. The federal government imposed sanctions like school reconstitution and mandatory charterization on public schools which struggled to raise scores. Thousands of students have been held back in third grade based on one test score even though there is evidence that being held back even once increases the probability that a student will drop out of school before graduating.  In the minds of the public, test scores now measure the quality of the school, the quality of the teachers, and the quality of each school district as the place to invest in a house. States are still required by the federal government to rank and rate the schools and to create school report cards that are published in the newspaper.

While some of the history of No Child Left Behind school accountability has faded in our memories, the “Don’t Trust the Schools Movement” is on a many levels still driven and entangled with “High Stakes Testing.”  And this year, as high stakes testing continues to undermine confidence in our schools and as the culture warriors and parents’ rights advocates clamor to discredit teachers, state legislators are feeling empowered to listen as EdChoice and the Heritage Foundation and the Goldwater Institute pressure them to redirect desperately needed tax dollars to privatized alternatives by growing voucher programs and expanding charter schools.

In the midst of all the controversy as we begin 2023, we’ve forgotten about a second peril.  This one is not part of Peter Greene’s list.

Peril #2:  Public Schools Across the United States remain alarmingly unequal.

First Focus on Children just released a new report: Big Ideas 2023, whose first chapter by constitutional scholar and author of Schoolhouse Burning, Derek Black proclaims the importance of Reclaiming the Federal Role in Education: educational equity. Black reminds us that much of today’s conversation about public schooling seems to have drifted away from the goals of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act and one of the Department of Education’s primary programs, Title I:

“On most major measures, educational inequality is holding steady or on the rise. Achievement, segregation, and funding data all indicate that poor and minority students are receiving vastly unequal educational opportunities. For instance, predominantly minority schools receive about $2,000 less per student than predominantly white schools.  Even putting aside this inequality, overall government commitment to public education is receding. Since 2008, most states have substantially decreased school funding, some by more than 20%. The federal government has done little to stem the decline. Most disturbing, some states are currently taking steps to amend their state constitutions and make cuts to education even easier.”

Black explains that in 2015, Congress replaced the No Child Left Behind Act with the Every Student Succeeds Act, but he adds that in the 2015 version Congress did not improve the federal education law: “Congress simply stripped the federal government of regulatory power and vastly expanded state discretion. For the first time in 50 years, the federal government now lacks the ability to make prompt improvements in student achievement or to demand equal resources for low-income students… Congress can realign the Elementary and Secondary Education Act… with its historic mission of improving academic achievement and equity for low-income students, but it should also enact better mechanisms to achieve those goals. First, ESEA must increase federal investment in education. An increased federal investment is also necessary if states are to accept the second step: strict prohibitions on the unequal distribution of educational resources by states. The final step is to expand preschool education to all low-income students—a goal the Department of Education has pushed in recent years, but which states seemingly lack the capacity to reach alone.”

Derek Black reminds us that there is an urgent need for the federal government to reclaim and act on its traditional role as the guarantor of educational equity.  But equity cannot be achieved  by schools alone, which brings us to the third peril.

Peril #3: In 2022, Congress chose not to ameliorate child poverty.

Over a decade ago in a 2009 report, Lost Opportunity, the Schott Foundation for Public Education made a stunning effort to redefine what No Child Left Behind called “achievement gaps” and to shift our nation’s goal to closing children’s “opportunity gaps” not only at school but also in the whole of their lives.  What are all the factors that affect a child’s “Opportunity to Learn”?  Research demonstrates that child poverty itself creates perhaps the most serious of our society’s opportunity gaps.

Here is David Berliner, a retired professor of education and the former president of the American Educational Research Association: “(T)he big problems of American education are not in America’s schools. So, reforming the schools, as Jean Anyon once said, is like trying to clean the air on one side of a screen door. It cannot be done!  It’s neither this nation’s teachers nor its curriculum that impede the achievement of our children. The roots of America’s educational problems are in the numbers of Americans who live in poverty. America’s educational problems are predominantly in the numbers of kids and their families who are homeless; whose families have no access to Medicaid or other medical services.”

Professor of education at the University of Colorado and director of the National Education Policy Center, Kevin Welner adds: “Can schools balance our societal inequality? If that inequality is left unaddressed, along with the harm it does to children, can policymakers reasonably expect an outcome of rough equality through focusing instead on building a dazzling public school system…?” (Public Education, Defending a Cornerstone of American Democracy, p. 87)

While in 2021, as part of the American Rescue COVID relief bill, Congress temporarily expanded the Child Tax Credit, the expansion ended at the beginning of 2022. Then, last fall (2022) it appeared there was a chance that Congress would, as part of the year-end omnibus budget act, make the Child Tax Credit fully refundable, but the moment has now passed.

Writing for The New Republic, Grace Segers recounts what happened: “The implementation of the expanded child tax credit was akin to a social experiment in real time, with almost immediate results. During the six months it was in effect, the credit reached more than 60 million children in 36 million households. Due in large part to the expanded child tax credit, child poverty was cut nearly in half in 2021 compared to 2022, according to the Census Bureau. Food insufficiency also decreased significantly among families with children, dropping from a rate of 11 percent to 8.4 percent after the first monthly payment was distributed in July 2021.”

Segers continues: “The results of the credit’s expiration were as immediate as those of its implementation. January 2022 saw 3.7 million more children fall beneath the poverty line compared ‘to December 2021. That increase was particularly dramatic for Black and Latino children. Following the end of the expanded child tax credit, there was a 28 percent increase in the child poverty rate for Black children, and a 40 percent increase in the child poverty rate for Latino children from December 2021 to February 2022. The expiration of the expanded credit was also associated with a 25 percent increase in food insufficiency for families with children.”

Segers concludes that as the new Congress gets underway in January 2023 the chance for expanding the Child Tax Credit in the next couple of years is likely gone: “With Republicans taking control of the House in January, these final weeks of the year represented the last chance for the foreseeable future for the Democratic majority in both houses to reinstate the credit.”

With both chambers of Congress last year majority Democrat, 2022 was also probably the end of any chance in the immediate future to reduce reliance on mandated standardized testing accompanied by all of the high-stakes punishments for public schools or to shift attention back to the traditional role of the Department of Education—promoting educational equity at the federal level and incentivizing states to equalize their educational investment.

Like Peter Greene, I believe there are major threats to public schooling as we begin 2023. In this time when Congressional action is unlikely, the questions for those of us who support public education are:

  • how to keep on pushing to clear out the awful lingering policy around test-based school accountability;
  • how to keep on pushing back against widespread attacks on public education itself; and
  • how to keep on speaking for the needs of our society’s poorest children as well as for the needs of their public schools.

We need to remember the importance of protecting public education—our nation’s system of publicly funded, universally available, and publicly accountable schools. Public schools are the optimal institution for balancing the needs of each particular student and family with the community’s obligation to create a system that, by law, protects the rights of all students.


With One Action in this Lame-Duck Session, Congress Could Significantly Ameliorate Child Poverty

To address educational opportunity gaps, the United States will need to help families with children overcome poverty.  Staff at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) have just released precise instructions for Congress to take a major step for accomplishing this goal.

Before year’s end, “policymakers will have the opportunity once again to expand the Child Tax Credit… Indeed, Congress will likely consider tax legislation during this time, as business interests are pressing for corporate tax breaks that would undo some of the modest business tax increases that were enacted as part of the 2017 tax cuts, which gave extremely large net tax cuts to corporations.  Expanding the Child Tax Credit is more important than undoing a few provisions of the 2017 tax law that were used to offset some of the massive corporate tax cuts.  At a minimum, policymakers should not enact any year-end corporate tax breaks without expanding the Child Tax Credit.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is specific about what part of the Child Tax Credit must be fixed: “The current Child Tax Credit has a major design flaw: millions of children are prevented from receiving the full credit because their families’ incomes are too low. In total, an estimated 19 million children under age 17 receive less than the full $2,000-per-child credit or no credit at all because their families’ earnings are too low or because the adults were out of work that year…. This is because the credit phases in with earnings at 15 cents per dollar, for earnings above $2,500, and the refundable portion of the credit (the amount a family can receive if their credit exceeds their income tax liability) is capped at $1,500 per child. This slow phase-in rate results in the children whose families most need the credit receiving a smaller credit than children in families with higher incomes, or no credit at all. Furthermore, the credit phases in largely based on income, not the number of children a family has. So, a family with low income often receives the same total credit whether they have one, two, or more children, whereas families with higher incomes receive $2,000 per child.”

In policy-speak, the required change would make the Child Tax Credit fully refundable. “The vast majority of parents who are denied the full credit work, but their earnings are low enough that they can only get a partial credit, and not the full $2,000-per-child credit that families with higher earnings get.”

The policy language is a little complicated, but here is the example the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provides: “(A) single mother with a toddler and a second grader, who earns $15,000 as a home health aide helping older adults meet their basic needs, would (under today’s law) receive a total of $1,875 in Child Tax Credit, less than what other families would receive for just one child. In contrast, a family with two children and earnings of $150,000 would receive the full $2,000 per child, or $4,000 in total. In fact, families with much higher incomes—including married couples with incomes of up to $400,000—get the full credit for each child, while the lowest-income families are partially or completely shut out of the credit.”

“In the example described above of the home health aide with two children, the family receives less than half of the maximum Child Tax Credit under current law. Even a parent working full time as a cashier at a wage of $10 per hour, earning $20,000 per year, would not earn enough to get the full credit for two children.”

For six months in 2021, under the American Rescue Plan, Congress made the full Child Tax Credit available to families with low or no income. Congress also increased the amount of the Child Tax Credit for each child. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities assumes that this year Congressional deliberations will be intense and prescribes the one reform that would make the most difference. Increasing the amount of the credit per child is not so important as making the full tax credit fully available for the poorest families with children:

“Making the full $2,000 credit available to these children would substantially lower poverty, reducing the number of children living in a family with income below the poverty line by roughly 10 percent—or about 1.7 million children—in 2022 relative to current law.  By contrast, increasing the maximum credit amount without making the credit more available to the lowest-income children would do far less to lift children above the poverty line, and at a higher cost than making the credit fully refundable (to the poorest families). To make the greatest impact on child poverty, any future expansion should prioritize expanding the credit to children in families with low incomes.”  The new report adds: “Increasing the maximum size of the credit, after making it fully available, would further reduce child poverty. But if policymakers increase the maximum credit amount to the Rescue Plan levels without making the credit fully available… the number of children in families with income below the poverty line would fall by just 2 percent—or just 222,000 children… at more than twice the cost of making the $2,000 credit fully available (to the poorest families with children).

Which families would benefit from making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable? “The estimated 19 million children under 17 who do not receive the full credit are disproportionately Black, Latino, and American Indian or Alaska Native…. Due to historical and ongoing racial discrimination, many people of color are overrepresented in low-paid work and face more limited economic opportunities… The credit’s current structure also disproportionately disadvantages children who live in rural (that is, non-metropolitan) areas. An estimated 32 percent of children under 17 living in rural areas receive less than the full credit or no credit at all because their families’ incomes are too low or because the adults were out of work this year, compared with a still sizable 26 percent living in metro areas, largely because pay is generally lower in rural areas.”

Why must Congress act before year’s end? “Poverty and the hardships that come with it—unstable housing, frequent moves, inadequate nutrition, and high levels of stress in the family—can take a heavy toll on children; they are associated with lower levels of educational attainment, poorer health in adulthood, and lower earnings in adulthood.”

The new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is an urgent call to action. I encourage you to let your U.S. Senator and Congressional Representative know that you believe making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable should be a top priority for Congress this year.

New U.S. Census Report Shows Why Congress Must Permanently Expand the Child Tax Credit & Make It Fully Refundable in Year-End Legislation

This blog has strongly advocated that Congress should enact legislation to make permanent last year’s temporary expansion of the Child Tax Credit. New research confirms the urgency of Congressional action on the Child Tax Credit this year.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Census reported* a stunning drop in poverty among U.S. children in 2021, largely thanks to the Biden Administration’s action—temporarily for 2021 alone—to expand the Child Tax Credit and make it fully refundable under the American Rescue (COVID-relief) Act.  That expansion of the Child Tax Credit ended in 2022.  Now it is apparent that unless Congress acts to restore what was a temporary reform to the Child Tax Credit, millions of American children will fall back into poverty.

The U.S. Census created a new measure of poverty in 2011, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which reflects how government programs like SNAP, school lunch benefits, and refundable tax credits supplement family income and reduce poverty. The Census Bureau’s new report explains: “The SPM (Supplemental Poverty Measure) extends the official poverty measure by accounting for many of the government programs that are designed to assist low-income families but are not included in the official poverty measure. The SPM also includes federal and state taxes and work and medical expenses… Though the SPM does not replace the official poverty measure, it provides a different metric of economic well-being that includes resources from government programs and tax credits to low income families.”

In their September 13 report, using the SPM measure, U.S. Census Bureau researchers documented an extraordinary reduction in child poverty during 2021: “The SPM child poverty rate fell 46 percent in 2021, from 9.7 percent in 2020 to 5.2 percent in 2021, a 4.5 percentage-point decline. This is the lowest SPM child poverty rate on record.” “The decline in the SPM rate for children was largely driven by stimulus payments and the refundable Child Tax Credit, which led to increased resources for families with children.”

To review: In the American Rescue (COVID-relief) Act passed in the spring of 2021, Congress made several significant changes in the Child Tax Credit: raising the maximum Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,600 per child through age 5, and $3,000 for children age 6-17; allowing families to receive a Child Tax Credit for 17-year-olds; sending the payments monthly instead of once a year, and making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable for the year 2021.  Making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable was an extremely significant reform. While, since 1997, families with comfortable incomes have qualified for the full Child Tax Credit, until the American Rescue (COVID-relief) Act, families with such small incomes that they pay little income tax received only a partial credit and not the full amount. Families without any income (who do not pay federal income tax) could not qualify at all for the tax credit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained in a November 2021 report:  “Prior to the Rescue Plan, 27 million children received less than the full Child Tax Credit or no credit at all because their families’ incomes were too low. That included roughly half of all Black and Latino children and half of children who live in rural communities… This upside-down policy gave less help to the children who needed it most. The American Rescue Plan temporarily fixed this policy by making the tax credit fully refundable for 2021.”

When the new Census data came out on September 13, the President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Sharon Parrott, immediately released a statement interpreting the significance of the drop in U.S. child poverty: “The data for 2021 show that the nation knows how to reduce poverty, broaden opportunity, and expand coverage. Temporary measures drove progress… The new data show that due chiefly to the Child Tax Credit, child poverty fell sharply in 2021 and reached a record low of 5.2 percent, as measured by the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM)…. As recently as 2018, 13.7 percent of children were below the SPM poverty line.”

Parrot scrutinizes the meaning of Congress’s temporary action last year to reduce American child poverty: “The Child Tax Credit expansion drove the large reduction in child poverty between 2020 and 2021…. In the absence of the expansion, child poverty would have fallen to 8.1 percent, rather than 5.2 percent, and some 2.1 million more children would have lived in families with incomes below the poverty line. The year-to-year decline in the child poverty rate was the largest on record (4.5 percentage points). Child poverty rates plunged widely across racial and ethnic groups…. For Black non-Latino children, the poverty rate fell to 8.3 percent in 2021 from 17.2 percent in 2020…. This is stunning progress—in 2018 nearly 1 in 4 Black children lived in families with incomes below the poverty line.  In 2021, fewer than 1 in 10 did… In 2021, poverty among Latino children fell to 8.4 percent and for American Indian and Alaska Native children it fell to 7.4 percent.”

Washington Post columnists, Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent believe Congressional action permanently to expand the Child Tax Credit would redefine our society morally: “We can choose to make our economic arrangements fairer. We can make collective decisions that children shouldn’t be disadvantaged at a very young age through no fault of their own. Making the choice to alleviate poverty early in people’s lives… puts children on a path to becoming healthier, happier, more fulfilled, more productive adults.”

Why is eliminating child poverty so significant in the life of each child?  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reviewed the consequences in an urgent new report last Friday: “For children, poverty can mean unstable housing, frequent moves, inadequate nutrition, and high levels of family stress, and other problems. These in turn have been linked with lower reading and math scores, more emotional and behavioral problems, fewer years of completed education, lower earnings, higher likelihood of being arrested, and poorer health in adulthood, a 2019 National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine report on reducing child poverty found.”

Although Congressional opposition has blocked the inclusion of an expanded Child Tax Credit in economic legislation so far in 2022, there is still time for Congress permanently to expand the Child Tax Credit before the end of the year.  In last Friday’s report, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities declared that the need is critical: “Congress and the Biden Administration now face a stark choice: whether to expand the Child Tax Credit or allow all of the gains against child poverty made over the last two years to evaporate, with millions of children needlessly falling back below the poverty line… Without the Child Tax Credit expansion, some 2.1 million more children would have been in poverty in 2021—including 752,000 Latino children, 649,000 white children, 524,000 Black children, 89,000 American Indian and Alaska Native children, and 56,000 Asian children…. Moreover, the Child Tax Credit expansion improved conditions for children of all races and ethnicities and narrowed differences in poverty rates between them.”

Many of us had feared that action on the Child Tax Credit was a lost cause in Congress this year, but it appears there is still hope. Economists at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explain that right now Congress is under pressure to reduce corporate taxes. They declare: “Policymakers should not put corporate interests ahead of the interests of children. That means that… (a) corporate tax cut related to research and experimentation expenses—or any other business tax cut—should not move without an expansion of the Child Tax Credit. Some policymakers have already made clear that they do not support moving ahead with a corporate tax break without an expansion in the Child Tax Credit. For example, in response to the Census report, Senators Bennet, Brown, and Booker and Representatives DeLauro, DelBene, and Torres said that Congress should not enact corporate tax provisions in year-end legislation without expanding the Child Tax Credit.”

* John Creamer, Emily A. Shrider, Kalee Burns, and Frances Chen, Poverty in the United States: 2021, U.S. Census Bureau, September 13, 2022, pp. 1-2.  The link would not import into WORDPRESS.  You may enter the following in any search engine: Poverty in the United States: 2021, September 13, 2022 .

Because Congress Failed to Pass Build Back Better, Child Poverty Grew by 3.7 Million Children from December to January

A new February 2022 report from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University documents an alarming increase in child poverty since the U.S. Senate failed to pass the Build Back Better Bill and permitted important reforms to the Child Tax Credit to expire on December 31: “The overall monthly child poverty rate rose sharply between December 2021 and January 2022, from 12.1 percent to 17 percent—an increase of 41 percent.”

In the American Rescue Plan COVID relief bill, passed in the spring of 2021, Congress temporarily increased the per child amount of the Child Tax Credit, paid it out in monthly installments to help families living paycheck to paycheck, and made it fully refundable. Making the tax credit “fully refundable” means that families earning too little to pay a significant amount in income taxes could benefit from the full tax credit. The Child Tax Credit, established in 1997, has, until the brief 2021 temporary expansion, benefited middle and some upper income families but excluded those who have no income and paid a paltry amount to parents whose income is too low. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has called it “an upside-down policy.”

Last week, the New Yorker‘s Isaac Chotiner published an important interview with Sophie Collyer, the research director at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University. Collyer explains to Chotiner what the Center on Poverty and Social Policy has discovered based on data collected since December:

“We found that 3.7 million more children are in poverty as a result of rolling back the child tax credit between December and January. We’ve been measuring poverty over all and among children since the beginning of the pandemic, but using a monthly framework… It’s been a really useful tool for evaluating the impact of the expanded child tax credit in real time. Over the summer, with the initial payments, we saw an immediate reduction in the rate of child poverty, particularly because it was being paid out monthly for the first time and reaching about one in three children who were previously ineligible for the credit. So over the summer you’re seeing both the initial payments being paid monthly for the first time but also a much greater share of the child population being eligible for the credit. But it was only in effect in terms of monthly payments through the end of 2021. And the expansion of the child tax credit was only in effect for the calendar year 2021.”

Collyer explains to Chotiner the serious implications for Black and Hispanic children: “A big piece of the expanded child tax credit last year was that the earnings requirement associated with the credit was removed for 2021, and it was made fully refundable. The amount that you received was independent of your earnings… Before the expansion, many Black and Latino children were left behind when it came to receiving the full benefits of this credit—one out of two Black children and one out of two Latino children were ineligible for the full credit because of family income levels.”  The temporary changes in the Child Tax Credit ended in December, and Collyer continues. “Now, with the absence of the credit, we saw a 5.5 percentage point increase in the poverty rate of Black children and 7.1 percentage points for Latino children, translating to… nearly seven hundred thousand Black children falling into poverty and 1.3 million Latino children falling into poverty as a direct result of the credit being removed.”

Collyer elaborates on why she believes this program is particularly helpful: “It’s cash-based. So many social policies and social programs in the United States consist of in-kind transfers—housing subsidies, food stamps—and they’re infrequently cash. But with this you saw families receiving a cash payment, and cash is fungible. In one month, you might need it to fill in a food budget, but for the next month, it might be used to fix a car. Another month, it might help with child care. That flexibility is also something that comes out of the data, with families using it to meet needs that vary from month to month. I think that’s a really important takeaway in terms of the importance of cash in families’ lives and the importance of the monthly aspect of this.”

In a business column for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik lauds last year’s temporary improvements to the Child Tax Credit and condemns the Congressional inaction that blocked support for Build Back Better: “The payments had a rapid and material effect on the child poverty rate, which fell from about 16% in June to about 12% in December. Then the monthly payments ceased, and the child poverty rate rebounded to 17% in January, its highest mark since January 2020. That increase translates to 3.7 million children added to the poverty rolls in just a single month… The Biden administration has been trying to convert the one-year Child Tax Credit (changes) into a permanent program, but that goal has been thwarted by Congress—specifically, by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). Manchin has bizarrely drawn a line in the sand against the child credit, even though his state is a leading member of the child poverty hall of shame. In 2018, West Virginia boasted the fourth-worst rate of child poverty in the nation and fifth worst in extreme child poverty… The Republican Party has made stinginess a governing principle.”

Years of research document that children’s life chances and educational accomplishments all reflect their families’ economic circumstances.  The editors of a 2011 book, Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances, Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane, conclude the book’s introduction with this declaration: “We draw three conclusions: First, mindful of the biology of human development and the track record of proven programs, we must channel more policy dollars to enrich the early years of children born into poverty.  Second, we must improve the educational opportunities for children from low-income families at every stage of their development.  Third, we need a national policy debate about the consequences of economic policies that have permitted the growth of family income inequality that the nation has experienced in recent decades. Only if our country faces the consequences of growing income inequality will it be able to maintain its rich heritage of upward mobility through educational opportunity.” (Whither Opportunity? p. 20)

Regents Professor of Education Emeritus at Arizona State University and past president of the American Educational Research Association, David Berliner is even more blunt in his analysis: “(T)he big problems of American education are not in America’s schools. So, reforming the schools, as Jean Anyon once said, is like trying to clean the air on one side of a screen door. It cannot be done!  It’s neither this nation’s teachers nor its curriculum that impede the achievement of our children. The roots of America’s educational problems are in the numbers of Americans who live in poverty. America’s educational problems are predominantly in the numbers of kids and their families who are homeless; whose families have no access to Medicaid or other medical services. These are often families to whom low-birth-weight babies are frequently born, leading to many more children needing special education… Our educational problems have their roots in families where food insecurity or hunger is a regular occurrence, or where those with increased lead levels in their bloodstream get no treatments before arriving at a school’s doorsteps. Our problems also stem from the harsh incarceration laws that break up families instead of counseling them and trying to keep them together. And our problems relate to harsh immigration policies that keep millions of families frightened to seek out better lives for themselves and their children…  Although demographics may not be destiny for an individual, it is the best predictor of a school’s outcomes—independent of that school’s teachers, administrators and curriculum.”  (Emphasis in the original.)

Making the Child Tax Credit Fully Refundable: A Primary Strategy for Closing Opportunity Gaps

Why has this public education blog been relentlessly covering President Biden’s struggle to push Congress to pass a Build Back Better bill that repairs and expands the Child Tax Credit?  Our society has for decades tolerated an appallingly high child poverty rate. The relevance of this injustice to public education has, however, been poorly explored. Child poverty undermines children’s engagement and participation at school.

There is broad agreement that among the most substantial ways to address childhood economic inequality is by reforming and expanding the Child Tax Credit, a federal program initiated in 1997 that has helped middle and even upper income families, but has left out the poorest families whose parents pay too little in taxes to benefit fully from the program.

The National Education Policy Center’s Kevin Welner explains the connection of a child’s economic circumstances with that same child’s school achievement: “Those of us who work in or with schools never question the enormous impact that a teacher or school can have on a student. But this essential truth coexists with another truth: that differences between schools account for a relatively small portion of measured outcome differences. That is, opportunity gaps in the U.S arise primarily outside of schools. This should not be a surprise. Poverty, concentrated poverty, and racialized poverty are pervasive features of America. School improvement efforts cannot directly help children and their families overcome decades of policies that perpetuate systemic racism and economic inequality. When children are born in the United States, their educational and life outcomes can all be predicted based on their parents’ education, income and wealth. Compared to the Scandinavian countries and other so-called Western democracies like Canada, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand, American children are inordinately trapped in intergenerational poverty. Inequality in the U.S. is stark and enduring.”

A dozen years ago, the Schott Foundation for Public Education published Lost Opportunity: A 50 State Report on the Opportunity to Learn in America and launched its urgently important Opportunity to Learn Network, whose goal has been to define the difference between school achievement gaps and larger opportunity gaps. In the 2002, No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government had demanded that public schools close school achievement gaps as measured by standardized test scores. The Schott Foundation advocated that policymakers address opportunity gaps in children’s lives at school and in the hours children spend outside of school. The Schott Foundation has supported projects addressing impoverished children’s lack of access to the kind of supports economically privileged children take for granted.

An expanded Child Tax Credit—included temporarily in the 2021 American Rescue Plan COVID relief bill, and passed last November in the U.S. House of Representatives’ version of Build Back Better—addressed child poverty by increasing the per-child amount of the Child Tax Credit, making payments monthly to help parents living paycheck to paycheck, and making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable, meaning that even parents with little or no income could receive the funds.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why that last provision is so important: “Build Back Better would permanently extend a provision of the 2021 American Rescue Plan making the Child Tax Credit ‘fully refundable,’ meaning that children in families with the lowest incomes receive the same amount as children in higher-income families. Previously, 27 million children—including roughly one-third of all children, about half of Black and Latino children, and half of children in rural areas—received less than the full credit or no credit at all because their families’ incomes were too low.  Full refundability marks an important step in reducing racial disparities in income and poverty rooted in this nation’s long history of racism and discrimination, which has created large gaps in both opportunities and outcomes in education, employment, health, and housing.”

Because Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has repeatedly declared that he will not support a Build Back Better if it includes expansion of the Child Tax Credit, many have assumed that expanding the Child Tax Credit and making it fully refundable cannot happen in today’s U.S. Senate.  However, a stalwart group of Democratic Senators has been working to keep the issue alive. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, and Senators Michael Bennet (CO), Cory Booker (NJ), Raphael Warnock (GA), and Ron Wyden (OR) sent a letter to President Biden declaring their continued support for making permanent last year’s reforms to the Child Tax Credit. They were joined at a recent news conference by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Rep. Suzan DelBene (WA) promising that they will not stop working to prevent the rollback of last year’s temporary reforms to the Child Tax Credit.

Researchers and reporters have also continued to examine the facts around arguments made by Manchin and by Republicans in the U.S. Senate.  ProPublica‘s Eli Hager describes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) claiming that the 1996 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families law that replaced welfare has addressed child poverty and made reforms in the Child Tax Credit unnecessary. Hager responds: “They are simply wrong about the success of TANF.  It is a program distinguished by failure. Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the Clinton-era welfare reform law that created TANF, which inspired me and my colleagues at ProPublica to investigate the current state of cash assistance in this country.”

Hager explains that while TANF was passed as a federal program, it is administered by the states: “Some states… avoid spending TANF dollars to help struggling moms, dads and kids. In Arizona, only 6% of families below the poverty line are able to obtain assistance from the program, partly because the state uses more than $150 million a year of its (federal) TANF funding to instead pay for child welfare investigations of many of the very same poor parents, as well as the foster care costs of removing their children….” “In New Mexico… low-income single mothers applying for TANF are forced, in a relic of colonial ‘bastardy’ laws, to first identify the father of their child (and his eye color, license plate number and parents’ addresses), and also to recall under penalty of perjury the exact date when they got pregnant, before they can get a small amount of cash assistance…. When a state has all of this information, it can then go after the dads for child support—much of which the government pockets. (ProPublica found that in 2020, nationally, more than $1.7 billion in child support from fathers meant to go to their kids was instead diverted into government coffers, as part of TANF’s design.)”

At the end of January, National Public Radio‘s Cory Turner reported on data from the Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy, which regularly tracks child poverty.  Turner summarized the Center’s conclusions about the significance of last year’s temporary expansion of the Child Tax Credit: “What happened when families earning less than $35,000 a year suddenly had extra money in their bank accounts each month? They used it to buy food, clothing and school supplies, pay their utility bills and cover the rent… Less often, families spent the benefit on vehicle (19% of families), child care (16%) or to pay down old debts (17%)… The monthly payments slashed food insufficiency by a quarter… There’s no evidence the money drove caregivers to quit working… In fact, in interviews parents and caregivers commonly say this benefit helped cover the costs that made working easier by paying for child care or transportation.”

A week ago, the Washington Post‘s Jeff Stein presented stunning new, mid-February data from the Columbia Center on Poverty and Social Policy, data which describes what has happened since mid-December, when Congress ended the expanded monthly Child Tax Credit payments provided temporarily under the American Rescue Plan: “The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University said that the child poverty rate rose from 12 percent in December 2021 to 17 percent last month, an approximately 41 percent increase. The study found that an additional 3.7 million children are now in poverty relative to the end of December, with Black and Latino children seeing the biggest percentage point increases… Most dramatic for lowering child poverty was the expanded Child Tax Credit, which was made both more generous and extended to nonworking and poor parents who had traditionally been excluded from receiving benefits.”

Congress Must Make Last Spring’s Temporary Expansion of the Child Tax Credit Permanent As Part of the Build Back Better Bill

In the American Rescue Plan, the COVID-relief bill passed in March, President Joe Biden and Congress temporarily increased the Child Tax Credit and made it fully refundable. Now, as House and Senate bargain and fight about President Biden’s Build Back Better Bill (sometimes called the reconciliation package), they need to invest in making permanent last spring’s temporary expansion of the Child Tax Credit.

Congress should not add parental work requirements as qualifications for families to receive the full Child Tax Credit. The program was designed to protect children from the ravages of poverty.  Children should not be punished if parents are unable to work or unable to find or afford childcare.

The big problem with the Child Tax Credit until last spring when Congress temporarily expanded the program was that it helped middle class families far more than it assisted impoverished families whose children’s needs may be desperate.  Until Congress fixed it temporarily in the American Rescue Plan, the Child Tax Credit was what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls “an upside-down policy (which) gave less help to the very children who needed it most.” “Prior to enactment of the American Rescue Plan in March,  27 million children received less than the full Child Tax Credit or no credit at all because their families’ incomes were too low, including roughly half of all Black and Latino children and children who live in rural communities… Enacted in 1997, the original Child Tax Credit largely excluded children whose families had low or moderate incomes because the credit could only be used to offset a family’s income tax liability, not to boost a family’s low income.”

The Center on Budget and Policy’s September 7, 2020 report fills in the history of the Child Tax Credit: “As part of tax legislation, President George W. Bush signed in 2001, a bipartisan group of senators restructured the Child Tax Credit to make it partially ‘refundable,’ meaning that a family with little or no income tax liability could receive part of the credit as a refund… During each of the Bush, Obama, and Trump Administrations, policymakers on a bipartisan basis incrementally reduced the earnings threshold.  Most recently, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee pushed to reduce it to $2,500 in the 2017 law, which also increased the maximum credit to $2,000 per child.  But because the credit only phased in at the rate of 15 cents on the dollar for earnings above $2,500, a mother of two earning $15,000 received just $1,875 per year… still substantially less than middle-income families. The American Rescue Plan took a major step in rectifying this problem by making the full Child Tax Credit available to children in families with low or no earnings for 2021.”

The American Rescue Plan also increased the amount of the Child Tax Credit to $3,600 for each child under age 5 and to $3,000 for children ages 6-17.  “The Rescue Plan also allowed the IRS to deliver the Child Tax Credit to families on a monthly basis, rather than as a lump sum at tax time. The monthly cadence of payments provides financial predictability and stability for families with incomes near the poverty line.”

In late September, as some members of Congress suggested adding parents’ work requirements as a condition for families’ qualification for the Child Tax Credit, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a second report to define the explicit purpose of reforming the Child Tax Credit: to help support children living in poverty, not to punish unemployed parents. “Recent suggestions that Congress should deny the credit to children whose parents don’t have earnings are misguided. Taking away the full credit from children based on their parents’ earnings would needlessly leave in poverty — or push deeper into poverty — the children who need help the most, injuring their long-term health and educational outcomes and reducing their earnings as adults, while doing virtually nothing to boost parental employment…In more than 95 percent of families who benefit from making the credit fully refundable, the parent or other caretaker is working, between jobs, ill or disabled, elderly, or has a child under age.”

Permanently expanding the Child Tax Credit and making it fully refundable are tools for addressing economic inequality and racial injustice. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities continues: “Prior to the Rescue Plan expansion, about half of Black and Latino children received a partial credit or no credit at all because their incomes were too low, compared to about a fifth of white children. About half of children in rural… communities were also excluded from the full credit due to their family’s low income. These facts reflect sharp disparities in the educational and employment opportunities available to Black, Latino, and rural communities… The nation’s high child poverty rate and gaping racial ethnic, and geographic disparities in child poverty have translated into lost opportunities for millions of children.”  “The most common way people used their initial monthly Child Tax Credit payments this summer was to buy food… In the month and a half after the initial monthly Child Tax Credit payment was issued, the number of adults with children reporting that the household didn’t have enough to eat dropped by 3.3 million or nearly one-third.”

While middle class families have been receiving the full Child Tax Credit for each of their children since its inception in 1997, working poor and unemployed families have been excluded. The purpose of permanently expanding the Child Tax Credit is to help alleviate the threats of hunger, housing insecurity, and family stress for 27 million of our nation’s poorest children who have been left out of this program. It is time for Congress to do the right thing by making permanent the temporary reforms that were part of the American Rescue Plan.

What Biden’s COVID-19 Rescue Plan Will Mean for American Poorest Children and for Our Public Education System

On February 27, the U.S House of Representatives passed President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief bill, and on Saturday, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the House bill. Nancy Pelosi says the House will promptly enact the Senate’s version, and the bill will move later this week to the President for his signature. News reports have focused on big economic elements of the relief package—unemployment relief and one-time stimulus checks, but one of the most important things about this bill has been under-reported: what the President and Congress plan to do for America’s children and their public schools.

The American Rescue Plan Supports Public Schools and the State Governments that Fund Public Schools

There has been enormous and utterly confusing guidance coming from the CDC, the White House, and mayors of big cities, all of whom want to get all children back to school in-person. But it is rarely mentioned that when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, public schools had been struggling for years with inadequate funding. Yes, schools could reopen safely if ventilation were adequate, but lots of old schools have windows that don’t open. Yes, schools could reopen safely if classes were small enough that classrooms could house all the students in desks six feet apart, but in too many classes these days, one teacher works with more than 30—sometimes even 40—students. Running school buses with social distancing would require additional buses. Because most of us don’t spend our time inside schools where we can observe the realities children and their teachers live with every day, we like to imagine that reopening schools ought to be an easy process.  But the complexities can be overwhelming and the problems expensive to address—which is why many students are still learning remotely or attending school on complicated hybrid schedules.

The new stimulus package will help school districts address the complexities. The Washington Post‘s Rachel Siegel reports that Biden’s American Rescue Plan, passed by the House and now by the Senate, “sets aside almost $130 billion for K-12 education. That money would go to improving ventilation systems, reducing class sizes, buying personal protective equipment and implementing social distancing.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities adds that there is considerable flexibility, allowing school districts to use the funding over the next two-and-a-half school years: “With resources, schools can lengthen school days and the school year and invest in high-quality tutoring to help students—over the course of the next couple of years….”

On top of emergency relief money to support reopening, the bill the Senate passed on Saturday includes $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments. Last year’s Republican-majority Senate deleted aid for state and local governments from the March CARES Act and from the smaller relief plan that passed in late December. The Post‘s Rachel Siegel describes the effect of this year’s COVID-19 recession on state budgets: “Facing deep budget shortfalls, state and local governments have shed 1.3 million jobs since the pandemic began last year—a loss of more than 1 in 20 government jobs…. While tax revenue grew in some states last year, the majority—at least 26 states—were hit with declines. Revenue fell by 10 percent or more in five states… The toll was felt in both Republican-led states such as Texas, which saw a 10 percent shortfall, and Democratic-led ones, such as Oregon, which weathered a 13 percent drop…  Across all states, cuts to education spending make up almost all of the job losses. On the local level, public education accounted for just over half of job losses.”

COVID-19’s financial pressure on state public education budgets only compounds what has been a long running drop in public school funding. In two important books published last fall, the authors describe the fiscal condition of school districts over the decade since the 2008 Great Recession but before COVID-19 struck.  Here are Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire in The Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: “Almost every state reduced spending on public education during the Great Recession, but some states went much further, making deep cuts to schools, while taking aim at teachers and their unions… Moreover, states including Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, and North Carolina also moved to permanently reduce the funds available for education by cutting the taxes that pay for schools and other public services. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker took aim at education through Act 10—what was first called the ‘budget repair bill.’  Act 10 is remembered for stripping teachers and other public employees of their collective bargaining rights.  But it also made $2 billion in cuts to the state’s public schools.” (The Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, pp. 35-36)

In Schoolhouse Burning, Derek Black also examines the fiscal condition of U.S. public education even before COVID-19: “Before the recession of 2008, the trend in public school funding remained generally positive… Then the recession hit. Nearly every state in the country made large cuts to public education. Annual cuts of more than $1,000 per student were routine… (I)n retrospect…. the recession offered a convenient excuse for states to redefine their commitment to public education… By 2012, state revenues rebounded to pre-recession levels, and a few years later, the economy was in the midst of its longest winning streak in history. Yet during this period of rising wealth, states refused to give back what they took from education. In 2014, for instance, more than thirty states still funded education at a lower level than they did before the recession—some funded education 20 percent to 30 percent below pre-recession levels.”  (Schoolhouse Burning, pp. 31-33)  “(W)hen it comes to districts serving primarily middle-income students, most states provide those districts with the resources they need to achieve average outcomes… But only a couple states provide districts serving predominantly poor students what they need. The average state provides districts serving predominantly poor students $6,239 less per pupil than they need.” (Schoolhouse Burning, p. 241)

Federal dollars in the American Rescue Plan will cover emergency assistance for school reopening and ensure that states can restore cuts made in the past year to their per-pupil school funding. The goal is for school districts to be able to rehire enough teachers and support professionals to ensure that all children have the support they need when they return to school.

The American Rescue Plan Will Significantly Ameliorate Child Poverty for the Remainder of This Year

Beginning with the 1996 law that substituted Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, federal policy has aimed to incentivize parents to work instead of providing direct assistance for the children in America’s poorest families. President Biden’s priority, embodied in the new stimulus package, is to stabilize the lives of America’s poorest children and to make it possible for them to thrive and engage fully at school. Keep in mind that a family of four is officially living in poverty with an income of $26,500 or less; a family of four living in extreme poverty has an income of $13,250 or less. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently emphasized: “A large body of research links hardships such as inability to afford adequate food or housing to worse child outcomes. The effects of such hardships, which range from nutrient deficiency to disrupted schooling when families move frequently from home to home, can have lifelong consequences… Providing more food, housing, income, and other relief is linked with a range of long-term positive outcomes for children.” COVID-19 has increased the number of families living in poverty and exacerbated the stress these families are already experiencing.

The relief package the Senate passed on Saturday increases the Child Tax Credit and makes it fully refundable. The Child Tax Credit is not a new federal program; it is a per-child tax credit parents receive for each of their children. The American Rescue Plan increases the annual Child Tax Credit from $2,000 per child under current law to $3,600 per child for children 5-years-old and under and $3,000 per child for children 6-17 years-of-age. It works by reducing a parent’s federal income taxes leaving more earned income to be spent on children’s needs. But as the tax credit is currently designed, if a parent’s income is too low, that parent is not paying enough federal income tax to benefit from the full amount of the credit as higher earning parents do. President Biden’s plan would make the child tax cut fully available to all parents—“fully refundable” in the jargon of Congress. Biden’s plan will affect millions of America’s most vulnerable children—making their lives more secure and helping them thrive at school. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains that the American Rescue Plan “would lift another 4.1 million children above the poverty line, cutting the remaining number of children in poverty by more than 40 percent.”

The expansion of the Child Tax Credit is so urgently important that Jason DeParle highlighted it late yesterday for the NY Times: “Obscured by other parts of Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package which won Senate approval on Saturday, the child benefit has the makings of a policy revolution. Though framed in technocratic terms as an expansion of an existing tax credit, it is essentially a guaranteed income for families with children, akin to children’s allowances that are common in other rich countries. The plan establishes the benefit for a single year. But if it becomes permanent, as Democrats intend, it will greatly enlarge the safety net for the poor and the middle class at the same time when the volatile modern economy often leaves families moving between those groups.  More than 93 percent of children—69 million—would receive benefits under the plan, at a one-year cost of more than $100 billion.” For years, DeParle has covered the impact on children and families of the 1996 welfare reform.  His analysis is definitely worth reading.

Additionally, the American Rescue Plan includes relief to shore up the provision of child care, which has been threatened during this COVID-19 year. The executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Olivia Golden explains: “The legislation contains $39 billion for the child care sector: $15 billion to expand the Child Care and Development Block Grant and $24 billion for a fund to stabilize the economically devastated child care sector. The investment builds on previous coronavirus relief bills to finally deliver $50 billion in child care relief, which CLASP has demonstrated is so vitally needed to keep child care providers afloat, support the child care workforce—disproportionately women of color—and allow child care to reopen safely. Child care is crucial infrastructure for the economy, and its restoration is critical for women’s return to the labor market. The legislation supports parents and children by including funds to make quality child care affordable for people with low incomes as they return to work.”

Golden summarizes why the American Rescue Plan is so important as our nation seeks a way out of the current health and economic crisis wrought by COVID-19: “The American Rescue Plan is the urgent response the nation needs. It’s the large-scale response required at this moment to many of our nation’s most pressing needs created by the coronavirus, recession, and racial inequity… It will alleviate today’s crisis of suffering in communities with low incomes and meaningfully reduce child poverty.”

Suddenly President Biden Has Made Ameliorating Child Poverty a Topic of the Hour

Last summer and through the autumn, Jason DeParle—a NY Times reporter and long chronicler of the devastation wrought when, in 1996, welfare reform eliminated Aid to Families with Dependent Children—made the case (here and here) for augmenting the Child Tax Credit as the best way to reduce child poverty in the United States.  In a long piece in July for the NY Review of Books, DeParle explained why reforming the Child Tax Credit is the key to reducing the alarming incidence of child poverty in the United States:

“In talking with scholars over the past year, I’ve been struck by how many substantive reasons there are for focusing on poor kids—even more now than three decades ago. Neuroscientists have shown that much of a child’s developmental trajectory is set during the first few years of life, before children even start school. Economists have shown that even a brief episode of poverty, especially in early childhood, can have life-long consequences—leading to fewer years of education, lower earnings, and worse health in adulthood. It’s also become harder to excuse America’s exceptional child poverty by arguing that the U.S. enjoys exceptional mobility compared to other rich countries…. Research suggests the American advantage in class fluidity has declined or disappeared….”

During the Trump administration, with the conservative Republican lock on the U.S. Senate, and through the fraught post-election season, it seemed to me pretty hopeless to even post a blog about the need to help our nation’s poorest children, even though I know that American child poverty is appalling and that our society’s alarming rate of child poverty is a pertinent topic for a blog about public education. After all, our society holds public schools accountable according to aggregate standardized test scores, which are known to reflect primarily family and neighborhood economics rather than school quality. As education historian Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire explain in their new The Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: “Today more than twenty states have implemented some version of an A-F grade scale for schools.  But…. Giving A ratings to schools solely on the basis of student test scores, which closely correlate with student demography, means that the wealthiest, whitest schools earn the top grades, while high-poverty schools get Ds and Fs. ‘A is for Affluent‘ is how the Dallas News summed up school letter grades in Texas.”” (The Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, p. 144)

Suddenly, however, President Joseph Biden has made eradicating child poverty one centerpiece of his domestic policy agenda—beginning with his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposal. The Senior Director of Federal Tax Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Chuck Marr explains: “President Biden’s $1.9 trillion emergency relief plan includes a Child Tax Credit expansion that would lift 9.9 million children above or closer to the poverty line, including 2.3 million Black children, 4.1 million Latino children, and 441,000 Asian American children. It also would lift 1.1 million children out of ‘deep poverty,’ raising their family incomes above 50 percent of the poverty line. To do that, the Biden plan would make the credit fully available to 27 million children—including roughly half of all Black and Latino children—whose families now don’t get the full credit because their parents don’t earn enough….” Take a look at Marr’s list of workers who now fail to qualify for the full Child Tax Credit but whose children would benefit under Biden’s plan: retail sales workers, home health aides, cooks, child care workers, agricultural workers, medical assistants, bus drivers, meat processing workers, and dishwashers.

In his New York Review of Books piece, DeParle reminds us which families currently benefit from the Child Tax Credit: “The largest federal expenditure on children comes through the child tax credit, which has expanded rapidly with little public notice and largely leaves out the poorest families.  The Republican tax bill of 2017, Donald Trump’s most notable domestic achievement, doubled its value to 2,000 per child and extended it to families with annual earnings as high as $400,000… But because it phases in as earnings rise, the neediest get the least benefit: a single parent with two children needs to earn about $30,000 to qualify.  About 35 percent of children fail to receive the full credit because their parents earn too little. A quarter receive a partial payment, and 10 percent get nothing. Among those failing to receive the full amount are half of Latinos, 53 percent of blacks, and 70 percent of single mothers.”

Writing for the Brookings Institution, David Wessel explains how the Child Tax Credit, passed by Congress a quarter of a century ago, works right now:  “Families currently are eligible for a tax credit of up to $2000 per child under age 17… Eligible families can claim a tax credit—which reduces income taxes they owe dollar-for-dollar—of up to $2,000 per child under age 17 who is a citizen of the US. The size of the credit is reduced by $50 for every $1,000 of adjusted gross income above $200,000 for single parents and $400,000 for married couples. Families who owe little or no income tax can get cash of up to $1,400 per child, a feature which makes the tax credit partially ‘refundable,’ in the jargon of Washington… Although important to the low-income families who get it, and often promoted as a way to fight poverty the Child Tax Credit is not targeted at those families, particularly after the changes made in 2017.  About 40%… will go to households with incomes above $100,000.”

Wessel outlines the changes President Biden has proposed in his COVID-19 stimulus package: “President Biden would increase the credit from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under age 6 and to $3,000 for children under age 18, and he would make it ‘fully refundable,’ meaning that low-income families would get the full amount even if they don’t owe any income taxes. He proposes to do this only for one year, reducing the price tag, but fans of the tax credit both inside and outside the Biden administration say they hope the expansion would be renewed after the first year… Senators Mike Bennet (D-CO) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Suzan Delbene (D-WA) have introduced legislation, the American Family Act, that would expand the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 per year for children between the ages of 6 and 16, and to $3,600 for younger children—and make it fully refundable.”

For the NY Times last August, Jason DeParle reported that last year Congress commissioned the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine to study U.S. child poverty and make recommendations for addressing it: “Congress asked the academies what it would take to cut child poverty in half. The panel considered the expansion of 10 programs including job training, housing aid, child care, food stamps, and the earned-income tax credit. None reduced child poverty nearly as much as creating a child allowance. An annual payment of $3,000 per child would lift at least 38 times as many children out of poverty than an increased ($10.25 an hour) minimum wage. Advocates would pay it monthly, to temper damaging income swings like those hitting families today. ‘If I had to pick one policy, I would put my bet on a child allowance,’ said Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine, who led the academies’ study group.”