It’s hard to argue that poverty does not affect education. It’s also hard to argue that children who come from homes where they may be wanting food, time, or resources—don’t enter the school door with a little less than others. Children living in poverty and attending schools that are underfunded, under resourced, and understaffed are not literally up against the system.
In today’s society it is so much harder to be born into a low income family. We have established a system where those who are poor are more likely to stay poor, and lately we have seen a sharp increase in those considered poor. In fact, a recent research bulletin from the Southern Education Foundation highlights that, as of this year, the majority of public school children come from poverty.
Thus, the message becomes clear—if you are born into poverty, you are likely to stay in poverty.
As a country, we have deep-rooted negative stereotypes about people living in poverty, despite the fact that people who live in poverty are as diverse in their norms, beliefs, and behaviors as people who live in any other situation. Poverty spans geographical and ethnic boundaries, from urban cities to rural towns. There are many communities that have battled poverty for decades and many where poverty has arrived recently, unexpectedly, and in a rush.
Poverty is not fair and it is not productive for society.
So what do we do? Rather than just get angry, we must get active.
We can and should commit to addressing poverty by changing the formula by which we fund our schools, and ensure that inequities are at the heart of all policy discussions. Funding education via property taxes aligned to varying algorithms of local, state, and federal streams results in fundamental inequities. Such systems reward those who require the least rewarding and instruct those living in the poorest areas that the only way out is to relocate, which undermines the notion that education is the great equalizer.
If we dive deeper into these broad systemic changes, we see that there are a number of specific intermediate actions that we can all demand our policymakers undertake in order to directly and profoundly influence the education, well-being, and living conditions of children in poverty today.
Children in poverty are behind in so many different ways whether its in their home or their classroom. There are many children that live in a household that isn’t able to provide proper nourishment, or even some who can barely even provide food at all.
Just over a fifth of U.S. children live in a household that is “food insecure”—that is, having limited or uncertain access to adequate food at some point during the year. For some children, the food they receive through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs is their only sustenance. These efforts should remain priorities when the Child Nutrition Act is reauthorized, and states with low direct certification rates should receive support to improve their systems and expand child access.