Monday, February 27, 2012

Scrambling to stay ahead of last week's children in poverty report

Friday I passed on news of Tennessee's inglorious ranking as one of the worst states for large numbers of children in poverty. There has not been much news media coverage of the report here in Tennessee; at least the coverage has not been proportional to the scope of the calamity. The Knoxville paper quoted a state official whose response was predictably conservative (Nashville's daily merely reprinted it instead of reporting on poverty in Davidson County):

The concern is there are reduced opportunities they have to be successful in school and in life," said Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.

"I think it's important for us to realize we have be strategic to help families and children to be successful ....

"This tells us where we need to provide these kinds of investment, like parents need jobs, and other things that will help families and children," O'Neal said.

Some of the areas where help is needed are family resource centers and supplemental nutrition programs, she said.

People can help the problem, O'Neal said, by volunteering, mentoring, talking to their legislatures to make sure resources are receiving proper funding.

Wow. What an uninspired plan.

The national advocacy association for municipalities, the National League of Cities, attempted to get out in front of the report by emphasizing existing community services intended to address the problem:

Despite the severe pressures on municipal finances in the wake of the recession, cities are continuing to lead the way in efforts to reduce concentrated poverty and help families become economically self-sufficient.

For instance, a number of cities are central players in local, neighborhood-based initiatives that seek to replicate the innovative poverty reduction strategy developed by the Harlem Children’s Zone, even when they have not received funding through the federal Promise Neighborhoods program.

Other cities have taken comprehensive approaches to financially empowering local families by connecting them to key tax credits and work supports, mainstream banking services, savings and asset-building programs, alternatives to high-interest payday loans and financial education.

While sounding a little more inspired than the State of Tennessee's tenuous response to the exploding problem of children in poverty, NLC showcases a program in Harlem that is focused mostly on an education reform hybrid: half charter schools and half public schools. But even that program is made to wait on federal funding.

Trickle-down solutions like enlisting more volunteers and expanding charter schools (which sap resources from existing public schools) are little more than timid and flawed diversions to funding quality education programs and safety nets for less fortunate families.

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