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It appears that journalists at the Fayetteville Observer have produced a new “must read” series on the disastrous consequences of poverty in North Carolina’s sixth largest city. “Poverty’s Price” debuted yesterday and will run through the week. Click here and here, respectively, to read the first two installments: “Poverty: What Fayetteville can learn from Baltimore” and “The poor stay poor.”

As they always do, the right-wing think tankers will dismiss such reports by ascribing lack of drive and initiative to the poor, but as the lead editorial in Sunday’s edition of the Observer explained, endemic poverty of this kind is something that all members of the community bear responsibility for:

“This is not a good place to be poor. In fact, Cumberland County is one of the worst places in the country for children born into poverty.

They won’t just stay poor here, but they’ll actually fare worse than their parents. And this cycle will repeat itself, generation after generation.

We were stunned, earlier this year, when we came across the national study that documented this dismal fate for Fayetteville’s impoverished children. Harvard economists studied the lifetime economic outcomes for children across the nation. They found that in some areas, poor children have a pretty good chance of doing better than their parents. In others, they’re likely to stay at the same income level.

But here, they can expect earnings that are 18 percent below their parents’. According to the study, children in only 13 of the nation’s 2,478 counties fare worse….

As today’s story points out, this extensive poverty has consequences, our crime rate foremost among them. The problem is well-known in cities across the country, so common that it has a self-descriptive name: the cradle-to-prison pipeline.

The syndrome that spins out of our poverty problem is making the rest of us poor, too. Fighting the crime and imprisoning the perpetrators is costing this community millions of taxpayer dollars every year. Breaking the cycle would have an enormous payoff. But that will require investment, and this state is moving in the opposite direction – cutting, for example, early-education funding instead of increasing it to meet community needs.

We hope our readers will follow ‘Poverty’s Price’ throughout the coming week and then begin a community conversation about what we need to do to improve our children’s chances in life. We’ve all got a lot riding on it.”

Let’s hope readers across the state pay attention. For while the problems of Fayetteville are certainly dire, the same could be said for scores of communities across North Carolina.

NC Budget and Tax Center

For the 2015-16 school year, the NC Department of Public Instruction reports that around 1,200 public schools are eligible to participate in an initiative that aims to fight hunger in high-poverty schools. Referred to as Community Eligibility, this initiative allows eligible high-poverty schools, groups of schools, or school districts to offer breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge.

When children arrive at school hungry, it is very difficult for them to concentrate and do well in the classroom. Accordingly, community eligibility helps ensure that all children in high-poverty schools arrive to class each day fed and ready to learn. Last year, North Carolina got off to a good start with nearly 650 schools (around half of eligible schools) adopting community eligibility to feed more than 310,000 kids. Participating schools note that more NC children are eating school meals because of community eligibility, with a particular increase in the number of children eating breakfast.

The second year of this initiative provides an opportunity for additional eligible schools to join this initiative. With 1,200 public schools eligible for the upcoming school year, this means that hundreds of schools are not currently participating. Eligible schools that are not currently participating in Community Eligibility have until August 31, 2015 to confirm that they will join the initiative.

The impact of Community Eligibility extends beyond ensuring that children arrive to class fed and ready to learn. By eliminating the need to collect school meal applications, schools are able to use their staff more effectively and reduce administrative costs. These cost savings are likely welcomed by local schools amid limited financial resources and tight budgets.

This is not to say that the transition is easy. For example, a key feature of community eligibility is that schools no longer have to collect school meal applications; however, this paperwork has long been key to determining school funding mechanisms and poverty estimates, among other things. However, the USDA and US Dept. of Education have issued a variety of rules intended to address this issue and viable solutions exist for other particular challenges.

North Carolina has an opportunity to build upon its initial success with fighting child hunger through community eligibility. The overall health and prospects for the state will largely depend on the care and attention given to one of our most valuable assets – our youth. Supporting participating schools and getting more eligible schools to join community eligibility helps promote opportunity for all children.

Commentary

After reading this fact sheet from the American Public Health Association (APHA), it is apparent that NC policymakers need to take action in order to improve our state’s public health. If our state legislators were assigned a grade for how they are investing in NC’s public health, it would not be a passing grade. The following statistics show there is much room for improving NC’s public health rankings:

  • Ranks 8th for prevalence of diabetes amongst adults.
  • Ranks 47th for the availability of dentists.
  • Ranks 10th for infant mortality.
  • Ranks 47th for the amount invested in each person’s public health needs. NC spends $11.73 per year per resident.
  • Ranks 5th for the number of children living in poverty.

While these numbers are unimpressive at best, there are some public health areas that NC has improved on. First, the high school graduation rate has improved, but then again the Senate budget proposes tax cuts that lower the number of teacher assistants, which could negate the progress made. Second, NC has made great progress in reducing air pollution, but then again the House wants to cut auto emissions tests in some counties.

Even though the sequester led to significant cuts in public health funding, there is federal funding available to address the poor rankings listed above. NC could receive funding to help the following:

Fifteen percent of North Carolinians are uninsured and 500,000 people are in the Medicaid coverage gap. These are people that could seek primary preventative health care that will yield better health outcomes such as prenatal and maternity care to ensure healthy outcomes after childbirth. Research has shown that children eligible for Medicaid miss fewer school days, have higher educational attainment. and their families have more financial security. There are also 150,000 people in NC in the coverage gap with mental health and substance use disorders that need ongoing treatment. The Affordable Care Act has written into law that the federal government will cover 100% of Medicaid expansion costs until 2016 and up to 90 percent of costs starting 2020. Ensuring coverage to one half million North Carolinians is one public health act that will pull NC up the rankings.

Commentary

In case you missed it over the weekend, a middle school teacher from Forsyth County named Stuart Egan had a fine op-ed in the Winston-Salem Journal in which he debunked the myth that flawed teachers are somehow the biggest problem facing our public schools. As Egan explained:

“Earlier this year, The Washington Post published a study by the Southern Education Foundation that found an incredibly high number of students in public schools live in poverty. And in April, the journal Nature Neuroscience published a study that linked poverty to brain structure. All three publications confirm what educators have known for years: Poverty is the biggest obstacle in public education.

Yet many “reformers” and North Carolina legislators want you to believe that bad teachers are at the root of what hurts our public schools. Just this past November, Haley Edwards in Time Magazine published an article titled “Rotten Apples” that suggests that corporate America and its business approaches (Bill Gates, etc.) can remedy our failing public schools by targeting and removing the “rotten apples” (bad teachers) and implementing impersonal corporate practices.

I understand the analogy: bad teachers, rotten apples. However, it is flawed. Removing rotten apples does not restore the orchard. Rather, improving the orchard makes for better apples. Teachers are more like farmers, not apples. Students are what are nurtured. What we need to do is improve the conditions in which schools operate and the environments in which our students are raised; we must address elements that contribute to poverty.”

Egan continues with the farming analogy:

“Another fallacy with the rotten apple analogy is that the end product (singular test scores) is a total reflection of the teacher. Just like with farming, much is out of the hands of the education system. One in five children in North Carolina lives in poverty and many more have other pressing needs that affect the ability to learn. Some students come to school just to be safe and have a meal. But imagine if students came to school physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to learn. Read More

News

Of the nearly 30 percent of North Carolina’s schools receiving letter grades of D or F from the state, almost all of them are designated as high poverty schools with at least 50 percent of their students receiving free or reduced lunch.

poverty_grades

“The only thing these grades tell us is where our poor children go to school and where our rich children go to school,” said Lynn Shoemaker, a 23 year veteran public school teacher representing the advocacy group Public Schools First NC at a press conference held by Senate Democrats. Read More