Two Tennessee lawmakers introduced legislation that would tie welfare assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to the educational performance of students who benefit from it, and the legislation was approved by committees in both the state House and Senate last week.
Under the legislation brought by two Republicans, a student who doesn’t not make “satisfactory progress” in school would cost his or her family up to 30 percent of its welfare assistance, the Knoxville News and Sentinel reported:
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah. It calls for a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.
As amended, it would not apply when a child has a handicap or learning disability or when the parent takes steps to try improving the youngster’s school performance — such as signing up for a “parenting class,” arranging a tutoring program or attending a parent-teacher conference.
When Campfield introduced the legislation in January, he said parents have “gotten away with doing absolutely nothing to help their children” in school. “That’s child abuse to me,” he added. Tennessee already ties welfare to education by mandating a 20 percent cut in benefits if students do not meet attendance standards, but this change would place the burden of maintaining benefits squarely on children, who would face costing their family much-needed assistance if they don’t keep up in school.
TANF, meanwhile, is failing students and their families. It serves fewer impoverished families and children than its predecessor did before the 1996 welfare reform law was instituted, and it especially failed during the Great Recession, when the rate of families served fell in 35 states despite increases in both poverty and unemployment. And Tennessee’s welfare program is hardly robust — the maximum benefit is $185 a month and hasn’t changed since 1996. Given that low-income students already struggle to keep up in school, further reducing the already-modest benefits they receive from TANF isn’t likely to improve educational outcomes. It could instead make them worse.