Education reform: What about child poverty?

January 16, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

With lawmakers and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin talking so much about education “reform”, it is strange that a key challenge facing so many West Virginia schoolkids isn’t necessarily one of the main things they talk about. What is it? Poverty.

The good folks at the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy raised the issue yesterday, in a blog post in which executive director Ted Boettner argues that, “Addressing Child Poverty is the Best Education Reform We Can Make“:

As state lawmakers and others review and debate the findings of the recent education audit, it is important that they consider the economic and social conditions of our state’s children. This is especially true when evaluating our state’s K-12 education outcomes, which likely has more to do with the income of a student’s parent than any other factor.

As professor Stephen Krashan of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California recently pointed out in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette:

“The problem is poverty: Our average test scores are mediocre because the United States has such a high level of child poverty, the second highest among economically advanced countries (23 percent). Study after study shows that poverty has a devastating effect on school performance.”

While pursuing education reform to find cost savings and improve programing is very important to our state’s future, it is equally – if not more – important that we look at underlying factors such as child poverty that appear to play a much larger role in education outcomes. One important step West Virginia could take to address child poverty would be to ensure that every child in West Virginia has access to quality child care and other early childhood development programs. This program not only ensures that young children get a better start in life, it also makes the state a better place to live, work, and raise a family.

It’s important to note that the much-touched “education audit” by Public Works LLC barely mentions poverty or poor kids, and certainly doesn’t spend any significant time or energy offering proposals specifically aimed at helping this particular population of students. That sure seems odd, given that poverty is such an important indicator of school performance, and that childhood poverty in West Virginia remains very high:

The state’s child poverty rate was 25.8 percent in 2011, up from 25.5 percent in 2010. 97,677 children lived in poverty in 2011. West Virginia ranked 12th highest among the 50 states in child poverty.

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