Biden’s Relief Package Moves Along—Including Child Tax Credit to Ameliorate Child Poverty

Last week, while America was reliving the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol and listening to an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House continued marking up President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. In a society that has, over the past four years, not even managed to name widespread child poverty as a problem, the new President has—by  getting to work and immediately proposing a comprehensive COVID relief package—managed entirely to change the national conversation. I clipped seven different articles last week alone on Biden’s proposed provisions to reduce child poverty.

First Focus on Children’s Bruce Lesley explains: “(T)here were 12 million children in the United States living in poverty in 2019… Even before the pandemic and recession, the kids were not alright. In an international comparison, our nation is well behind other wealthy nations in a report by UNICEF on dozens of child well-being measures, including child poverty and child mortality.  In that report, the United States ranks… 36th out of 38 countries—behind countries like Romania, Estonia, Slovakia, Latvia, Greece, Poland, Lithuania, and Malta.”  Leslie points out that 31 percent of U.S. children live below the poverty line.

Leslie highlights a key provision in the President’s proposed COVID-19 relief plan, “What stands out is the Biden-Harris proposal to make the Child Tax Credit fully refundable to help… one-third of all our kids… whose parents make too little to qualify for the full child benefit, which is $2,000 annually under current law. The legislation also raises the amount of the Child Tax Credit to $3,600 to families with children 5 and under ($300 per month) and $3,000 to families with children 6-17 years-of-age ($250 per month).”

The Child Tax Credit is exactly that: a tax credit. It works by reducing a parent’s federal income taxes leaving more earned income to be spent on the needs of the family. But if a parent’s income is too low, that parent cannot benefit from the full amount of the credit as higher earning parents do.  Biden’s proposal, now marked up by the House, would make the child tax cut fully available to all parents—“fully refundable” in the jargon of Congress.

In a new brief last Wednesday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains the proposal for increasing the Child Tax Credit in the relief bill the House Ways and Means Committee has marked up: “Some 27 million children—including roughly half of all Black and Latino children and a similar share of rural children—receive less than the current maximum $2,000-per-child tax credit because their parents earn too little, even as middle-and higher-income families get the full amount. The proposal would make the full Child Tax Credit available to children in families with low earnings or that lack earnings in a year, and it would increase the credit’s maximum amount to $3,000 per child and $3,600 for children under age 6.  It would also extend the credit to 17-year-olds. The increase in the maximum amount would begin to phase out for heads of households making $112,500 and married couples making $150,000. The proposal would lift 4.1 million children above the poverty line—cutting the number of children in poverty by more than 40 percent. The proposal also would lift 1.1 million children above half the poverty line (referred to as ‘deep poverty’).  Black and Latino children in particular, whom the current credit disproportionately leaves out or leaves behind, would benefit.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities continues: “To see what this can mean to individual families, consider these examples:

  • A single mother of a toddler, who earns $10,000 a year providing in-home care to older people (with work hours that fluctuate significantly from month to month), now receives a Child Tax Credit of $1,125. Under the House plan, she’d receive $3,600, a gain of $2,475.
  • A single mother with a 4-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, who is out of work for the year due to a health condition, now receives no Child Tax Credit at all, adding to the family’s financial insecurity. Under the House plan, she would receive the full Child Tax Credit of $3,600 for her daughter and $3,000 for her son to help with the children’s expenses.”

How has it come to be that one third of children in the United States live in families whose income is below the federal poverty line—$26,200 for a family of four?  Writing last week for the NY Times, Claire Cain Miller and Neil Irwin explain: “The United States is distinct among rich countries in thinking of children as, in many ways, an individual responsibility. Many European countries have family allowances as do Canada and Australia (most allowances are larger than the ones being proposed in the United States), as well as policies like public child care and lengthy paid family leaves. In the 1970s and ’80s, when women entered the work force in large numbers, the United States briefly considered the idea that the government and employers could play a big role in supporting family life, such as with public child care and flexible work hours. Instead policymakers settled on the idea—supported by an alliance of people who believed in small government and traditional family structures—that it was mostly the responsibility of parents, and not the government, to invest in children.”

The President’s proposal to increase the Child Tax Credit and make it fully refundable as part of the COVID-relief package would expire after this year. However,  in the last session of Congress, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Michael Bennet (D-CO)  introduced  a more permanent solution—the American Family Act, which includes the very same provisions for increasing the child tax credit and making it fully refundable. Last week, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) reintroduced their companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

We can assume that, through the reconciliation process, President Biden will soon be able to pass the COVID-19 relief bill. The bill’s passage will significantly but temporarily reduce child poverty by repairing the Child Tax Credit. We can hope that with Democratic majorities this year in House and Senate, Congress will pass the American Family Act to provide more permanent assistance for the millions of American children whose families struggle with poverty.

COVID-19 Widens Inequality Among America’s Young People, But So Far, There Is No Plan to Address It

What are all the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown obstacles in the paths of America’s poorest young people?  The numbers are staggering. Hardship is so overwhelming that it is almost impossible to grasp the deeper meaning of the data in the reports from major policy organizations.

Here is the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “Households with children are more likely to have trouble affording food or paying the rent or mortgage than households without children. Based on five weeks of Census Bureau Pulse Survey data collected from June 18 to July 21, we estimate that: Approximately 19 million children, or 1 in 4 children, live in a household that isn’t getting enough to eat, is behind on rent or mortgage payments, or both. These levels of hardship are substantially higher among Black and Latino children, reflecting longstanding inequities that the current crisis has exacerbated.”

The Economic Policy Institute describes barriers to learning: “The pandemic has exacerbated well-documented opportunity gaps that put low-income students at a disadvantage relative to their better-off peers. Opportunity gaps are gaps in access to the conditions and resources that enhance learning and development, and include access to food and nutrition, housing, health insurance and care, and financial relief measures. One of the most critical opportunity gaps is the uneven access to the devices and internet access critical to learning online. This digital divide has made it virtually impossible for some students to learn during the pandemic.”

First Focus on Children tracks family suffering:”The Household Pulse Survey from the Census Bureau tracks food insecurity, financial hardship, and other indicators of child and family well-being since the outbreak of COVID-19. USDA’s annual Household Food Security report monitors the extent and severity of food insecurity across the United States during a given year through a nationally representative survey. The USDA report found that in roughly 7% of food-insecure households, parents and caregivers are able to shield their children and provide semi-normal diets by going without food themselves. However, research by the University of Michigan has found that despite parents’ and caregivers’ best efforts, many children still worry about not having enough food and about their parents’ well-being, and express embarrassment and sadness about not having enough food.”

The Center for Law and Social Policy examines the plight of adolscents and young adults: “The coronavirus pandemic emerged in the context of deep inequities, widening long-standing chasms across income, race, and ethnicity…  Even before the pandemic, children and young adults had the highest poverty rates of all age groups. Young adults face far higher rates of unemployment than any other age group. Some also face massive student loan debt and few jobs prospects. Prior to the coronavirus, the economy was already leaving out young adults. Young people accounted for approximately 25 percent of jobs paying low wages, nearly half of all minimum-wage earners, and a disproportionate share of the unemployed. Between January and May, the unemployment rate jumped from 13 percent to 30 percent for teens, age 16-19, and from 7.6 to 23.2 percent for young adults, age 20-24. Young people of color are overburdened with structural and systemic factors that create barriers to work. These include mass incarceration and the implicit biases in the criminal justice system; racism and discrimination; segregation and isolation; policy and investment failures in the K-12 and postsecondary systems; and major gaps in access to and investment in crucial supports for work, including child care, health, and behavioral health. This disruption in their education and work experience comes when young adults are just beginning their careers, which can have lifelong implications for earnings.”

What does all this data mean?  Most of us are quickly overwhelmed when we try to grasp the many ways the COVID-19 pandemic is blocking opportunity for our nation’s poorest young people. Last week, however, the Washington Post‘s Heather Long and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel opened one window through which we can look into the isolated, private struggles of students who can’t make opportunity work for them this autumn. The reporters begin: “In August, Paige McConnell became the first in her family to go to college—and the first to drop out.  McConnell, 18, could not make online classes work. She doesn’t have WiFi at her rural home in Crossville, Tenn. The local library turned her away, not wanting anyone sitting around during the pandemic. She spent hours in a McDonald’s parking lot using the fast-food chain’s Internet, but she kept getting kicked off her college’s virtual classes because the network wasn’t ‘safe.’ Two weeks after starting at Roane State Community College, she gave up.”

The reporters describe how the president of a Pennsylvania community college came to recognize what his school would have to do to make virtual learning work: “When he saw students huddled outside a Sheetz convenience store trying to do their virtual classes on the store’s WiFi network, John J. ‘Ski” Sgielski, president of Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC)…  realized just how much help his school would have to provide low-income students if they were to make it through the fall semester. Like many schools, HACC is predominantly holding virtual classes this fall. Sygielski’s team has given out hundreds of computers to needy students and ‘close to 400’ hotspots, but he fears too many students will just give up on higher education as they see family members getting sick with COVID-19, losing jobs and struggling to eat.”

The reporters describe college president Sgielski’s dilemma not just from the point of view of struggling students, but also in terms of the college’s enrollment figures: “Enrollment is down 13 percent at HACC this fall, though enrollment is still underway because some classes don’t start until later this month.  Black enrollment is down 17 percent, and Hispanic enrollment is down almost 19 percent.  It’s a similar story at many other flagship community and public colleges.  Fall enrollment at Miami Dade College is down 17.5 percent so far, with a 16 percent decline among Hispanic students and a 20 percent decline among Black students. Northern Virginia Community College and the City University of New York are down about 4 percent each this fall, with early data indicating a steep decline for Black students at Northern Virginia Community College.”

The reporters add: “The drop-off in college enrollment is unusual and particular to this pandemic, as college enrollment during the Great Recession grew. Typically, enrollment jumps during economic downturns when jobs are scarce and people look to retrain. Yet, the opposite is happening now.  Students who are the first in their families to pursue college degrees don’t tend to take ‘gap years’ to travel and intern. When low-income students stop attending school, they rarely return, diminishing their job and wage prospects for the rest of their lives. Only 13 percent of college dropouts ever return, a National Student Clearinghouse report last year found, and even fewer graduate. ‘The ultimate fear is this could be a lost generation of low-income students,’ said Bill DeBaun, the National College Attainment Network’s (NCAN) data director.”

One challenge during the pandemic is everyone’s isolation. Locked up at home, we are less likely to  encounter the students parked in public library or fast food restaurant parking lots to take advantage of the WiFi. And families who are hungry or behind in rent and families whose health insurance evaporated when the primary bread winner lost a job are coping with these stresses quietly inside their homes.  The big reports by Washington think tanks and advocacy groups have, however, documented growing suffering among America’s poorest families. Why, in the richest nation in the world, is nobody really doing anything about it? Clearly the Trump administration and the Senate Republican leadership, which have blocked allocation of federal dollars through a second COVID-19 relief bill can be blamed, as can the paralyzing politics of a contentious election season.

Last spring, some people said that COVID-19 would shine a bright light on long standing inequality and we’d have to do something.  I wish I saw growing public will to ameliorate the struggles of America’s poorest children and young adults.

Congress Neglects Children: No Relief for Public Schools or State Budgets

Public schools are the linchpin holding together our society’s supports for 50 million children.  Public schools are where our children practice learning, computing, critical thinking, imagining; where they develop skills in writing, reading, musicianship, art, and all kinds of sports; and where they learn to respect one another. For children whose economic needs are greatest, public schools provide breakfast and lunch. Many wraparound schools now serve as sites for health and dental care, house after-school and childcare programs, and connect parents with broader social service providers.

After a wait of over two months following the U.S. House of Representatives’ May 15, passage of a second COVID-19 relief HEROES Act—which included money to help public schools make safety adjustments to classrooms, buses, and ventilation systems before the fall term and money to shore up the state budgets which provide 47 percent of K-12 public school funding—the Senate refused to compromise.  Last week Congress gave up without agreeing on a relief package including needed help for public education.  And during the negotiations, President Donald Trump tried to make assistance for public schools contingent upon their immediate reopening despite the explosive spread of COVID-19 across many communities. Trump and members of his administration claim there is plenty of funding unspent from the first COVID-19 relief bill, the CARES Act, if public schools need more money to help them prepare for safely reopening.  In fact, however, states have already committed 75 percent of the CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. The money available for public schools has been spent or has been promised for costs school districts have already planned.

Much of the discussion during the recent negotiations did center on an issue of importance to children: unemployment benefits to help their parents put food on the table and pay the rent. But what does it say about our culture that the direct needs of America’s children are hardly mentioned in public policy conversations these days? While the President has demanded that all schools open to ensure that parents can work, he never says a word about making children and their teachers safe in schools that, thanks to federal inaction, have not been able to afford adjustments to ensure social distancing. Despite overwhelming evidence that people want to work in an economy with too few jobs, many Republican Senators insist that unemployment benefits make adults lazy and encourage them not to work. The same politicians seem not to have noticed that when parents lose their jobs, their children are the most vulnerable victims of hunger, homelessness, and lack of health care coverage.

After the Great Recession in 2008, the federal government responded with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which awarded money to help states cope with their own budget crises.  A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) brief summarizes what happened for public schools: “The last time that states faced a budget crisis, in the wake of the Great Recession of a decade ago, emergency federal aid closed only about one-quarter of state budget shortfalls. Once the aid was gone, states started cutting funding to K-12 schools to help comply with their balanced budget requirements. By 2011, 17 states had cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent. Local school districts responded by cutting teachers, librarians and other staff; scaling back counseling and other services; and even reducing the number of school days. Even by 2014—five years after the Great Recession ended—state support for K-12 schools in most states remained below pre-recession levels. School districts have never recovered from the layoffs they imposed back then.  When Covid-19 hit, K-12 schools employed 77,000 fewer teachers and other workers even though they were teaching 2 million more children….”

CBPP reports that there has been some economic recovery across the states from the recession a decade ago, but many states have never brought student services back to their pre-2008 level: “Nationally, combined state and local school funding per student has finally recovered from the recession. In the 2017 school year, it was $267 above the 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation—a modest 2 percent increase (since 2008).  But state funding was still $32 per student below pre-recession levels, while local funding was up $299 (per student).”  Translating these facts into their real-world implications, we can see that wealthier school districts with a sufficient property tax base have been able to raise local funding to compensate for an overall reduction in state funding over the decade. But the school districts which serve the poorest students with the greatest needs—the school districts most dependent on state school funding—are operating with less revenue.  And, reports CBPP, “In seven states, combined state and local school funding in the 2017 school year was at least 10 percent below (2008) pre-recession levels in inflation-adjusted terms… Florida, the deepest-cutting state, was down 22.7 percent; Arizona 22.6 percent; and Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama, all over 10 percent.  In all, 22 states plus the District of Columbia remained below pre-recession levels.” (Emphasis is mine.)  Now all of these states are experiencing an added severe drop in tax revenue due to the new COVID-19 recession.  And because the U.S. has not contained the pandemic, many school districts this fall are forced to open only on-line.  Because of the lack of federal assistance to school districts, some of the poorest school districts will still be unable to ensure that all children have the necessary equipment and broadband access to participate fully in online schooling like their more privileged peers.

First Focus on Children’s president, Bruce Lesley warns America not to forget our children: “(A)t key moments when children need politicians to step up or speak out to promote or protect their needs or best interest, kids are far too often treated as an afterthought, used as a bargaining chip in political negotiations, or shockingly, intentionally harmed… First Focus on Children’s analysis finds that the domestic share of the federal budget dropped from 8.19 percent in President Obama’s last year in office in 2016 to just 7.48 percent in 2020—a 9 percent reduction. Furthermore, if President Trump’s proposed FY 2021 budget had been enacted, federal investments in children would have declined by another $21 billion on an inflation-adjusted basis… One former senator told me that weeks often go by without children even being mentioned in the halls of Congress.”

Lesley continues: “The failures to address the needs of children in this pandemic and economic recession are instructive. For months, some leaders dismissed the needs of children and even argued children were immune from harm, when the facts clearly dispelled that myth. Every aspect of the lives of children was being disrupted and it took months before many of our nation’s leaders even took notice… It is clear that children have been treated as an afterthought and are the victims of neglect by some of our nation’s political leaders.”  Even before the pandemic, “Shockingly, at First Focus Campaign for Children, we could not identify a single vote in the U.S. Senate during all of 2019 that was specific to improving the lives of children. NOT ONE.”

Here we are, in the month when the fall public school term traditionally opens. Lesley condemns Congress and the President: “Now some of those leaders have suddenly realized that schools and child care are critical needs in the economy and that the needs of children should have been a priority all along.  As child advocates can attest, it is all too little, too late.  The President, whose policies have largely ignored or harmed children, is demanding that schools and child care centers reopen without having taken the necessary public health measures to make them safe to reopen, without having provided schools and child care centers the necessary resources and support to safely reopen, and with no real plan… All across our vast country, our nation’s educators that care for our children and parents are being asked to deal with a lose-lose proposition.”

If the effects of the last recession are any guide, the impact of ignoring the needs of America’s children will be long lasting. Last week C. Kirabo Jackson, a social policy professor at Northwestern University and two colleagues released a study about the effect on school achievement nationwide of the Great Recession and the 2009, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus bill. They report that school districts did not make the greatest cuts in programs and operating expenses; instead they put off capital expenses—building maintenance and repairs.  “Even so, districts still made substantial cuts to instructional spending. For every dollar in spending cuts, we find districts reduced instructional spending by $0.45, on average.  Reductions in payroll costs for instructional employees account for roughly half of that amount… Districts trimmed their spending on payroll across the board, taking particular aim at the guidance office.  We look at overall staff counts and find that, on average, a $1,000 decline in spending was associated with hiring 3.7 percent fewer teachers, 5.3 percent fewer instructional aides, 3.3 percent fewer library staff members, and 12 percent fewer guidance counselors.  This led to roughly 0.3 more students per teacher and 80 more students per guidance counselor… (T)he spending declines that followed the Great Recession halted a five-decade-long increase in student test scores in reading and math, kicking off what some have called a ‘lost decade’ in terms of student achievement… (T)hose cuts also were associated with slower rates of college-going among students on track to become first-time college freshmen, possibly undermining some students’ momentum during a critical moment of transition from K-12 to higher education…”

New Reports Confirm Persistent Child Poverty While Policymakers Blame Educators and Fail to Address Core Problem

On Tuesday, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published a stunning analysis, by the newspaper’s data analyst Rich Exner, of the school district grades awarded by the state of Ohio on the state report cards released last week.  The new report cards are based on data from the 2018-2019 school year.  I encourage you to follow the link to look at Exner’s series of bar graphs, which, like this one, present a series of almost perfect downward staircases, with “A” grades for school districts in communities with high median income and “F” grades for the school districts in Ohio’s poorest communities.

The correlation of academic achievement with family income has been demonstrated now for half a century, but policymakers, like those in the Ohio legislature who are debating punitive school district takeovers, prefer to blame public school teachers and administrators instead of using the resources of government to assist struggling families who need better access to healthcare, quality childcare, better jobs, and food assistance.

Ohio’s school district grades arrived this week. At the same time, and with less fanfare, arrived a series of reports on the level of federal spending on children, reports documenting that, as Education Week‘s Andrew Uifusa explains: “The share of the federal budget that goes toward children, including education spending, dipped to just below 2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2018—the lowest level in the decade.”

On Tuesday of this week, the Urban Institute released a new report detailing trends in federal spending on children’s needs: “(O)verall spending on children represents a relatively small share of total federal spending, and that share is dwindling. In 2018, overall federal spending on children younger than 19 fell from recent years to about $6,200 per child.  Education and other discretionary spending categories saw the steepest declines last year, as they were squeezed by growing spending on health and retirement programs, as well as interest payments on the national debt.”  Further, federal spending on children is growing thin in particular areas as children’s needs compete with one another: “Increased mandatory spending on health programs for children and adults is putting pressure on education spending and other discretionary spending on kids. In 2018, federal spending on education dropped by $1.9 billion.  This is part of a long-term trend, as 2018 federal spending on elementary and secondary education was 48 percent below peak spending during the recession (in 2010) and 14 percent below pre-recession spending (in 2008).”  “As spending exceeds revenues year after year, the national debt will continue to climb… Under current policies, interest payments on the debt are projected to exceed spending on children in the next few years.”

A new report this month from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Children and Families in Trouble, examines the persistence of child poverty and the federal government’s failure to address it: “Poverty in the United States continued a sluggish decline in 2018, falling to 11.8 percent, with children and young adults still experiencing the highest rates.  Child poverty (ages 0-18) and young adult poverty (ages 18-24) remained unacceptably high at 16.2 percent and 15 percent respectively with alarmingly large racial and ethnic disparities in poverty.  Young children, under age 5, remain the poorest of all, at 17.7 percent….”  “Racial disparities are persistent, stark, and caused by structural factors… Black and Hispanic children are more likely to be poor (29.5 and 23.7 percent respectively) compared to 8.9 percent of non-Hispanic white children, despite high levels of work among their families.”

CLASP reports relatively high levels of employment among families with poor children, but problems with the kind of work available, the wages, and the conditions: “More than two-thirds of poor children (70.3 percent) live in households with at least one worker. Low wages, inadequate hours, and underemployment mean that work still does not pay a family-sustaining wage for millions of households. While unemployment remains near historical lows, a substantial share of low-income workers is employed part time involuntarily, meaning they would prefer to be working full time but are unable to find full-time work or get sufficient hours from their employer. Low-wage jobs predominate in the fastest-growing sectors, such as retail and food service. Such jobs are characterized by few benefits; unstable and unpredicable schedules; and temporary or part-time status.”

In the 13th annual release, last week, of its proposed Children’s Budget, First Focus on Children summarizes several areas in which Congress needs to support children with increased spending:

  • “Almost 80 percent of eligible 3-5 year old children lack access to Head Start programs.
  • “The Federal Government is not fulfilling 55 percent of its funding commitment for Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) grants.
  • “Of the households on the waiting list for housing assistance, 60 percent are families with children.
  • “75 percent of poor families in the U.S. who are eligible for cash assistance do not receive it.
  • “Nearly 83 percent of children who receive free or reduced price lunch during the school year do not have access to the summer meals program.”

The Trump administration has now also proposed a new “public charge rule” which would eventually deny green cards and application for citizenship to members of immigrant families who use public benefits. The new rule will apply in the future to the possible citizenship of today’s infants and children in these families.  In its recent report CLASP highlights special problems for immigrant children if, at the end of a 60 day posting period, the rule goes into effect (on October 15, 2019): “Among children, 425,000 more were uninsured in 2018 versus 2017, reversing a decades-long trend toward greater coverage. This concerning reversal, including a significant worsening among Hispanic children and among young children… likely reflects multiple attacks on health insurance coverage for people with low incomes. Notably, the Trump Administration is waging ongoing efforts to undermine the ACA and Medicaid access, and a hateful anti-immigrant agenda… (is) causing a chilling effect on immigrant families’ access to public programs.”

In late August, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) highlighted “Six Ways Trump ‘Public Benefits’ Policies Harm Children.” NEPC’s newsletter examines how the Trump administration’s proposed new rule would constrain opportunity for children in vulnerable immigrant families: “On August 12th the Trump administration proposed a new rule to change the criteria considered when the U.S. government decides whether to extend visas or grant permanent residency (‘green cards’).  These criteria—which are inextricably tied to a history of bias in the immigration process—have long included evidence about the likelihood of the immigrant becoming dependent on public benefits. But the approach that is now used focuses on cash benefits, such as Supplemental Social Security (‘disability’) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (‘welfare’).  The proposed rule will expand that to the main non-cash benefits used by immigrants: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps; Medicaid; and housing vouchers and other housing subsidies.”  NEPC continues: “(Seventeen) states plus DC have brought two lawsuits against the administration, alleging that the rule redefines the term ‘public charge’ inconsistently with Congress’ intent in the Immigration and Nationality Act; that it violates constitutional equal protection guarantees by effectively targeting immigrants from poorer areas in Asia, Latin America, and Africa; that it infringes on states’ rights to protect their own residents; and that it punitively, arbitrarily and capriciously targets immigrants for using public benefits programs that are used by about half the country’s residents.” While school breakfast and lunch programs are not directly affected, “current policy automatically enrolls students in the federal free and reduced-price school meal program if their families receive food stamps… Accordingly, if immigrant families avoid SNAP, (their children) are less likely to receive the meals.”

My reason for quoting all of this information about persistent child poverty is to make the needs of America’s poorest children visible. The bar graph produced by the Plain Dealer‘s Rich Exner clearly shows that child poverty affects academic achievement. Policy makers, however, in the spirit of test-based, sanctions-based school accountability, are instead determined to impose punishments on the school districts serving poor children. They imagine that if they shift the blame onto teachers, nobody will notice that they are themselves failing to invest the resources and power of government in programs to support the needs of America’s poorest children.