Magazine article The American Prospect

No Fanfare for Learnfare

Magazine article The American Prospect

No Fanfare for Learnfare

Article excerpt

This school year, Governor George Pataki of New York expanded Learnfare--a program making family-assistance grants contingent upon children's attendance at school--to include all elementary schools in the state. After three unexcused absences, students on welfare must seek counseling. After four unexcused absences, their families lose $60 in monthly assistance, which they can earn back with perfect attendance the following quarter. During the program's two-year pilot run, 329 families had their grants reduced, and only 16 families were able to recover their losses. Learnfare, according to Pataki, rests on the premise that "[a] good education is a key building block in any child's future and is absolutely necessary to break what for too many families has become a generational dependency on public assistance." And by targeting the very young in grades one through six, it hopes to "help them move out of the welfare culture," according to Jack Madden, spokesperson for the state's Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. The rationale--a classic culture-of-poverty argument--assumes that poor school attendance is due to poor values.

But no evidence for such a claim exists. "Is lower school attendance by poor students because their families lack a belief in the importance of school or because various circumstances like asthma afflict them more than middle-class families?" said Katherine Newman, an anthropologist at Harvard University who has studied poor working-class families in New York. According to Newman's research, poor families emphasize schooling even more than others, especially because parents with little or no education struggle in the labor market and hence do not want their children to repeat the experience. Learnfare also suggests that children whose families are on welfare miss school at a higher rate than others, but is that true?

"We don't have statistics on that," said Madden. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.