First published on PolicyMic.com

On Friday, November 1, 2013, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, will be cut by about $5 billion. The cuts will reflect the loss of money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) passed in 2009, which lifted the amount given to SNAP recipients. This funding loss will affect 15% of households throughout the country. Many of those who will suffer will be children. One of the consequences of hungry children is a disastrous impact on academic performance.

Hungry students have difficulty learning. In fact, according to a fact sheet from the National Educators Association (NEA), students who are hungry are more likely to be retained a grade. A 2012 report published by the No Kid Hungry campaign stated that three out of five teachers say that students come to their classrooms hungry on a regular basis. 80% of those teachers say that the regularity occurred at least once a week.

Free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs for low-income students are essential dinner matters as well. Lowering the amount of SNAP benefits for a family means a major loss in the amount of meals a family will be able to get each month. While Congress could stop the cuts, let’s not kid ourselves: there is not much hope. Last month, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill to cut food stamps about $39 billion over 10 years.

In addition to funding SNAP properly so more people will be eligible, there are other solutions to adequately feeding students. It is not enough to provide children with food, they also need and deserve nutritious meals. Tufts University found that anemia caused by iron deficiencies affected 25% of students and was tied to an inability to learn.

Many states are using their local food supply to provide healthy school meals. The rise in popularity of “farm to table” meals provides healthier options for those who partake in those meals. The United States Department of Agriculture praised North Carolina, for example, for its robust farm to school cafeteria programs. Not only are healthier meals provided to students, there are benefits to the environment and the local economy. While low-income students are in school, it is not only important to provide them with meals. They also need nutritious meals to be ready to learn.

Another hidden effect of poverty and school hunger is the stigma of receiving free meals at school. If students are ashamed to receive the meals offered at school or if their parents for some reason are unable to fill out the application, there is an option that some school systems are using. The Community Eligibility Option provides free meals to every student in high-poverty schools. Since every child gets a free meal, no student has to overcome a stigma and there is no burden for parents to apply for free breakfast and lunch programs.

We expect our children to attend school and do well. We tell them that education is the pathway to success. We cannot expect our children to walk that pathway to the schoolhouse gate hungry or ashamed and be successful in spite of their condition. Increasing SNAP benefits so students can eat dinner and on weekends while providing nutritious meals made from ingredients provided by local growers and erasing the stigma of receiving free meals at school by using the Community Eligibility Option can go a long way toward helping student success.

It would be naïve to think that hunger is the only issue for academic achievement for students living in poverty. Housing, health care, income maintenance, and a slew of other problems affect people living in poverty. The only way that we can try to alleviate some of the problems is to acknowledge they exist. A good way to start is to talk about the children who will have less access to food and may suffer in school because of the cuts to SNAP that will go into effect on November 1.

h/t PolicyMic.com

Beginning Monday, November 4, 2013, the North Carolina Justice Center is celebrating Early Childhood Week. The goal is to highlight the importance of early childhood programs to the success of the state.

The week will include guest blog posts by several early childhood advocates. All will discuss the significance of investing in early education programs and child care subsidies.

Here are a few talking points on early childhood education to prepare you for an important and informative week.

  • A child’s social and emotional skills are developed in the first 2,000 days.
  • Nobel Laureate James Heckman found that high quality early education programs provided a 6-10% return on investment  per year.
  • In 2011, researchers from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute found that pre-K education improved language, literacy and math skills, which creates school ready at-risk students.
  • In 2010, Frank Porter Graham researchers found that North Carolina’s pre-K program has a positive impact on the academic achievement of poor children.
  • Pre-K narrows the socioeconomic achievement gap.
  • A 2011 study published by Duke University showed that in jurisdictions with North Carolina’s early childhood education programs, 3rd grade End of Grade test results improved for all children living in the jurisdiction even if they did not participate in the programs.  The rising tide of early childhood education lifts all academic boats of North Carolina’s children.

 

Recently, the AP released a story about North Carolina parents receiving lists that are longer than usual for supplies that their children will need for school. It seems that even though some defenders of the state budget claim that the state has never spent so much money on education as it is spending right now (a fact disproven by the data), there just are not enough supplies for North Carolina’s classrooms. This is just more proof of how the budget falls short on supporting public education.

The list sent by a teacher mentioned in the story includes such basics as paper to make copies and materials to clean the classroom.

“We horde supplies,” said Ashley Montgomery, who teaches kindergarten at Nancy Reynolds Elementary School in Stokes County. “If there’s anything to grab, we grab it. Because whatever the parents bring in is what we’ve got for the year, unless we go out and buy it ourselves.”

The list Montgomery sent home with her students is pretty typical — notebook, crayons, glue sticks, pencils, etc. But, like many other teachers across the state, she also asked parents to provide copier paper, cleaning supplies and other items that were once provided by the school.

“We don’t have the funds we need,” said Montgomery, who has been teaching 10 years. “It gets kind of frustrating when you hear about some of the things they’re spending money on down in Raleigh and we don’t have paper.”

The simple facts reported in the AP story are enough to render the claims of those responsible for the budget utterly maddening. Whatever the state is spending, the growing list of supply demands make clear that it is not enough.

But when you think about it, of course, it’s crazy that parents and teachers have to spend any money to get supplies in the first place. We have become so accustomed to the list being sent to parents that the story is that the list is longer. The story should be that we even have a list at all.

Our Parent Teacher Associations are given the responsibility to conduct fundraisers. Some have made it easy by partnering with grocery stores to get a percentage of a parent’s purchase. Some of the fundraising provides money so teachers can buy equipment. But PTAs should not carry this burden. The state should provide everything a child needs for his or her educational experience. We have become too used to this being a function of parents.

Even more appalling is that we expect teachers to dig into their already low-paid pockets to buy supplies. It takes 15 years for a North Carolina public school teacher to make $40,000 but it only takes one trip to Staples or Office Depot to get a discount for supplies.

Parents living in poverty should not fear or be ashamed that when the list comes to their home that they will not be able to purchase everything or anything on the list.

One of the things people rightfully dislike about their government is when they are not told the truth. Sadly, in the ongoing debate about North Carolina’s new school voucher plan many politicians have been doing just that.

In an apparent effort to lessen the controversy, some legislators have been claiming that that it is “essentially a pilot program.” It is not. The “Opportunity Scholarship Act” is a full-blown government program similar to ones that have failed miserably in several jurisdictions. It has no expiration date and its sponsors have made plain their intention to expand it.

In explaining the education budget, one state senator wrote:

In regards to the Opportunity Scholarship Act, this is a pilot program for low income families.  Many children in low income families are forced to attend low-performing schools because they do not have the opportunity that wealthier families have to move to better schools.  We simply want to make sure that everybody has the same opportunity to succeed; it is by no means a sign that lawmakers lack confidence in our public schools.

At least four obvious responses deserve mention: Read More

The North Carolina General Assembly released its compromised budget on Sunday night.  A look at the budget shows that public education is no longer a priority for this legislature.  While there are several things that are problematic about this budget, there one issue in particular that we wish to highlight. The legislature created a volunteer school safety resource program.  While there were bills that concerned school safety, including a volunteer marshal program, this provision coming in the budget is somewhat surprising.

In a reaction to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the General Assembly created a volunteer school safety resource officer program.  Research demonstrates that school resources officers escalate adolescent behavior into criminal behavior.  Paid school resource officers do not receive enough training.  There is no reason to believe that volunteer officers will be better trained than their salaried counterparts.  When law enforcement is involved the likelihood of suspensions or expulsions expand.  If a student is 16 or 17 years old, an adolescent schoolyard fight can lead to adult consequences since North Carolina is one of two states that send 16 and 17 years old to the adult court system.  The evidence also shows us that children of color will have disproportionate contact with the criminal justice system.

This provision is also troubling because it smacks of the posses of the Wild West.  But this is not an old Western movie because students become a part of the very real school-to-prison pipeline.  Even though the volunteers are required to have a law enforcement background, work as a police officer is different from work as a school resource officer.  The job requires an understanding of brain development and why children and adolescents do some of the things they do.  Volunteers may also have a background as military police.  Military training is different than law enforcement training.  The effort and time that it would take to train volunteer school resource officer could be better used to safety issues that we know work like positive behavioral intervention and supports.

The truth is that we cannot stop random unpredictable people who wish to harm our children.  We can, however, protect our children from the overcriminalization of their conduct by preventing the very predictable possibilities of volunteer school resources officers.

This is by no means the only troubling issue in this budget but it certainly needs to be addressed.  Although this budget is likely to pass, we cannot allow matters as important as this to go through without dissent.