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You’re Invited: Implementing A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty

| April 16, 2019 |

In response to a mandate from Congress, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently published a landmark study, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, which confirms that child poverty is solvable problem when there is the political will to address it. Written by a committee of the nation’s leading experts, the study puts forward an evidenced-based policy agenda that, if prioritized and implemented by our nation’s lawmakers, would cut our child poverty rate in half within a decade.

We have a roadmap, now is the time to act. Concurrent with the release of A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty, the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group launched End Child Poverty U.S., a national campaign to set a target to cut our child poverty rate in half within a decade and eliminate child poverty within 20 years.

To continue the discussion, please join First Focus and the U.S. Child Poverty Group to learn about the impact of child poverty on healthy child development and how Members of Congress and other stakeholders can utilize these findings in their work to reduce child poverty in the United States.

Remarks

  • Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

Panelists

  • Bruce Lesley, President, First Focus

  • Robert Moffitt, Ph.D, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Economics, John Hopkins University and NASEM Study Committee Member, A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty

  • Dr. Diana Montoya-Williams, Neonatologist, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Instructor of Pediatrics, University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine

The President’s Budget Threatens the Health of Our Children

| April 3, 2019 |

President Trump’s budget proposal doesn’t contain a lot of surprises when it comes to children’s health coverage. We have seen much of it before: the drastic cuts to Medicaid, per capita caps, and repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As our fact sheet details, overall funding for children’s health would experience drastic cuts if this request were enacted. But we have hope that Congress will have the good sense to reject these disastrous proposals and protect children’s health coverage.

Two proposed ideas in this budget are particularly troubling, including one that does not require Congressional approval.

The first, which also appeared in last year’s budget, aims squarely at immigrants, children of immigrants, and American citizens who may have trouble locating a birth certificate, such as elderly individuals. It involves a potential legislative proposal to stop reimbursing states for covering Medicaid applicants during the “reasonable opportunity” period. This is the period of time between conditional acceptance of an application and when the applicant submits proof of immigration status. Current regulations state: “Medicaid eligibility for individuals who claim to be U.S. citizens or qualified aliens may not be delayed or denied during the reasonable opportunity period if the individual meets all other eligibility factors. Medicaid benefits must be provided as soon as all other eligibility factors are confirmed. If otherwise eligible, Medicaid benefits begin the first day of the month of application.”

If this proposal passed through Congress and became law, states would lose federal funding for people who need time to document their citizenship or eligibility status. This is an unnecessary proposal and one that, if approved, would only lower rates of coverage and deny people necessary care.

The second proposal would weaken 12-month continuous eligibility for Medicaid and could be enacted without legislative review. Nearly two-thirds of the states (32) currently provide 12-month continuous eligibility for children in Medicaid and/or CHIP. Continuous eligibility promotes stable access to care by reducing “churn,” or individuals moving on and off coverage due to modest, and often temporary, changes in circumstances such as overtime or extra seasonal work. Continuous eligibility also facilitates a more accurate assessment of the quality of health care children receive in Medicaid and CHIP because most quality measures require minimum periods of enrollment.

The Administration’s budget refers to the proposal as a possible administrative regulation and “commits to using regulatory authority to allow states the option to conduct more frequent eligibility redeterminations for MAGI populations to ensure that Medicaid is focused on the most needy. [$45.6 billion in savings over 10 years].”

Currently, all states are required to renew coverage every 12 months for children, pregnant women, parents and expansion adults. However, during that 12-month period, individuals may lose coverage if they experience a change in circumstance that makes them ineligible, such as increased income. For children, states can opt to provide 12-month continuous eligibility, which allows a child to remain enrolled for a full year unless the child ages out of coverage, moves out of state, voluntarily withdraws, or does not make required premium payments.

At First Focus, we have advocated for a legislative proposal to cover children continuously for the first five years of their lives, from birth through age five. Twelve-month continuous eligibility is a great precursor to that idea and the majority of states agree. To go back on that progress would roll back the great strides we’ve made in covering children over the last few decades.

The items flagged above should offer enough cause for alarm. But other areas of concern in this budget include flat funding or drastic cuts that could affect a wide range of children’s health issues. The proposal goes after the CDC’s chronic disease prevention program and asks for a $210 million cut to the Institute of Child Health and Human Development at NIH. The few funding increases it does include are modest and do not offset the cuts in other areas. For example, the budget grants $50 million to the National Cancer Institute for a new Pediatric Cancer Initiative, but cuts the Institute’s overall budget by $897 million. Overall, the budget’s requested 12 percent cut to the HHS funding paints a grim picture for the administration’s spending priorities on children’s health.

This budget proposal, like last year’s, would have grave consequences for the health of our children.


Cutting Child Poverty in Half Within a Decade: A Congressional Briefing

| March 1, 2019 |

March 14, 2019

Hosted by the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group, First Focus, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives, in collaboration with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Congressman Danny Davis 


Children continue to disproportionately experience poverty in the United States, and are 62 percent more likely to experience poverty than adults. Yet while the U.S. child poverty rate remains stubbornly high, there is no long-term national strategy, or even a national dialogue, to address child poverty in the U.S. and the negative outcomes associated with it. We know it does not have to be this way. When countries prioritize their children, it results in lower child poverty rates and improved economic outcomes for all of society.

In response to a mandate from Congress, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine released a landmark consensus study on child poverty in the United States. This study included analysis of the economic, health, and social costs of child poverty to our society, as well as the effectiveness of current anti-poverty programs–including international, federal, state, and local efforts–to reduce child poverty. Based on this analysis, the study committee issued a set of evidence-based policy recommendations about how to cut the national child poverty rate in half within a decade.

Concurrent with the release of this study, the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group, a partnership of over 20 national organizations, launched a national campaign, End Child Poverty U.S., to garner collective action in calling upon the federal government to make child poverty a priority through setting a national target to cut our child poverty rate in half within 10 years.

Please join the U.S. Child Poverty Action GroupFirst Focus, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Prevention Science Coalition To Improve Lives for a Congressional briefing, Cutting Child Poverty in Half Within a Decade, to hear from leading experts on this new landmark study and learn how Members of Congress and other stakeholders can utilize its findings to reduce child poverty and its negative consequences in the United States.

Opening Remarks

Moderator

  • John K. Roman, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Economics, Justice and Society Group, NORC, University of Chicago and Co-Director of the National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives

Panelists

  • Christine-James Brown, President and CEO, Child Welfare League of America and NAS Study Committee Member, Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 Years
  • Dr. Benard Dreyer, Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, NYU School of Medicine, Director of Pediatrics, Bellevue Hospital Center, Past President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, NAS Study Committee Member, Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 Years
  • Dr. Angela Diaz MD, PhD, Director, Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center and Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Religion Is No Legitimate Excuse for Denying a Child a Loving Family

| March 1, 2019 |

Every child deserves the opportunity to be raised in a stable and supportive household. For foster children and youth, the evidence is clear that they fare much better in family-like settings. The challenge has been, however, that there are far more children in need of foster homes than there are foster parents. That is why the Trump administration’s decision to shrink the pool of available foster parents by allowing faith-based foster care providers to deny prospective foster parents the opportunity to foster or adopt children based solely on their faith is particularly harmful for children in foster care and the foster care system.

In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced its approval of South Carolina’s request for an exemption from a recently implemented regulation which prohibits federal agencies from providing private entities with federal funding if they practice discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, and gender identification, and other unlawful classifications. This waiver request, submitted on February 27, 2018, came from South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster after South Carolina notified Miracle Hill Ministries, (a faith-based foster care provider in Greeneville, SC) that their discriminatory practice of denying non-Christian parents from fostering or adopting children jeopardized their federal funding.

The issue of allowing federally-funded, faith-based agencies to refuse to work with certain groups is far from specific to South Carolina. The ACLU is currently representing couples in both Michigan and Philadelphia in cases stemming from the discriminatory practices of child-placement agencies. Both cases involve same-sex couples. (In Dumont v. Lyon, the ACLU filed suits against Michigan for allowing this practice, but in Fulton v. Philadelphia, the ACLU is representing two non-profits in a fight to uphold the city’s ban on such discriminatory practices. These cases have a strong chance of making it to the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming years.

Steven Wagner, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, justified this decision by arguing that the Obama Administration had reached beyond the limits of its power in enacting its 2016 regulation. The regulation prohibits the denial of HHS benefits and programs on “non-merit factors” such as age, disability, sex, race, gender, religion, etc. Wagner bolstered this argument with a 2014 SCOTUS decision which drastically expanded the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Trump Administration is not merely using the RFRA to exploit a loophole in the Obama-era regulation, but to counteract its effect entirely.

Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary of HHS’ Administration for Children and Families stated that this decision “[. . .] protects minors who are in need of as many options as possible for being placed in loving foster families.” But with a foster care system currently overflowing with children in need of a home, child-placement agencies should not be in the business of denying children a home based on their subjective belief that prospective parents don’t adhere to Christian values.

According to the most recent annual report by the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), the past five years have marked a steady increase in the number of children and youth living in the foster care system, with 442,995 in foster care in 2017. While the number of entries into foster care may have dropped between the 2016 and the 2017 AFCARS reports, the number of youth exiting the system has also declined.

While the immediate effects this decision may have on children and those trying to foster or adopt them are grim, the real potential for disaster lies in the precedent this sets moving forward. By approving South Carolina’s request to discriminate, the Department of Health and Human Services is opening the door to allow other federally funded agencies to withhold their services from individuals of different faiths, or individuals with lifestyles which don’t adhere to that particular organization’s beliefs. HHS provides subsidies for organizations involved in industries which are crucial to the well-being of millions of Americans, such as health care, social services, and disease prevention and control. Well-established programs such as Head Start, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Home Visiting, and even the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are all funded by the federal government. The idea of agencies denying individuals any of the benefits of these, and other federal programs based solely on their religious beliefs is disturbing.                      

In no way is this issue unique to South Carolina. Kansas and Oklahoma also passed laws in 2018 which permitted faith-based child welfare agencies to discriminate against foster/adoptive parents on the basis of religion, joining the list of seven other states with such laws in place. According to The Chronicle of Social Change, the following “GOP ‘Trifecta’ States” (states in which the governor is a Republican, and both chambers of the state legislature are controlled by Republicans) are the most likely to see attempts at passing similar bills: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. 

These alarming statistics highlight the growing disparity in the number of children in need of a permanent home, and the number of individuals or couples willing and/or qualified to provide that home. Most taxpaying Americans would be outraged to learn that their hard-earned money is being spent to support agencies that actively and openly discriminate based on their faith or lifestyle. Denying children access to a safe and supportive home based on the religion, race, or gender of prospective parents not only flies in the face of legal precedent, but is immoral, regressive, and should cause children’s advocates grave concern.

For the sake of children in the foster care system, First Focus Campaign for Children calls on advocates everywhere to contact state and federal lawmakers in order to voice your strong objection to this waiver approval and all other discriminatory acts which reduce the number of suitable foster parents.


For Youth in Foster Care, the Road to Driving is a Bumpy Ride

| March 1, 2019 |

The following guest blog was originally published on the Annie E. Casey Foundation site, and has been republished with permission here.

Learning to drive is an exciting and nearly essential milestone for young people today. Yet, for youth exiting foster care, this rite of passage is often littered with obstacles — from DMV fees to costly automobile insurance rates.

“Youth in foster care meet challenges each step of the way — when applying for their permit, enrolling in driver’s education programs, participating in supervised driving, purchasing cars and obtaining car insurance,” writes Lucy Johnston-Walsh a law professor who runs the Children’s Advocacy Clinic for Penn State’s School of Law.

This is a topic Johnston-Walsh knows well. She authored Behind the Wheel — a report based on research funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation — after a county policy in Pennsylvania banned her longtime client, Lara Hollinger, 17, from owning a car. The issue? Hollinger’s foster care status.

Behind the Wheel identifies common challenges that young people like Hollinger face and recommends policy moves that states can make to help these youth get behind the wheel — and get ahead in life. This advice includes:

  • allocating state funding to pay for car insurance, driver education courses, and licensing fees for foster youth;
  • simplifying permit and license application forms to not assign liability to the adult signer of application forms; and
  • working to ensure that foster youth have access to driver training by offering programs and providing funding to incorporate this training into the transition plans for independence.

In 2017, Hollinger and Johnston-Walsh brought their concerns to a local judge and argued — successfully — that the policy limited a young person’s independence and penalized them for circumstances beyond their control.

Despite this progress, Hollinger — who eventually left care over this issue — points out that there is still more work to do. “I think a lot of people still need to understand how much harder it is to get insurance or to get the hours behind the wheel when you are in care,” she says.

Beyond the Report

In addition to supporting Johnston-Walsh’s research, the Foundation has also funded the State Policy Advocacy & Reform Center (SPARC), a nonpartisan center focused on supporting state advocates who are pursuing child welfare reforms. In conjunction with the nonprofit First Focus, SPARC has launched Going Places — an initiative focused on identifying and advancing policy solutions that can help young people in foster care obtain a driver’s license.

As part of these efforts, Going Places profiles programs that are helping youth in care get on the road. One such success story — which Behind the Wheel touts as a model to follow — is Keys to Independence, a three-year pilot created by the state legislature in Florida. The program allows reimbursements on learner’s and driver’s license fees, testing fees, traffic and substance abuse courses, driver’s education courses and insurance costs for youth in foster care.


The FAMILY Act is a Push in the Right Direction

| February 13, 2019 |

This week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) reintroduced The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. Almost every worker in the United States will need to take time off of work at some point to care for a new child, ailing family member, or themselves. However, only a marginal amount of the US workforce is able to take such family or medical leave while still receiving pay from their employer.

While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), adopted over 25 years ago, provides critical job protection for millions of workers in the U.S., only about 60 percent of the nation’s workforce is eligible for protection, and there are many more employees who cannot afford to take leave that is unpaid. Currently, only 15% of American workers have access to paid leave, and those who do not must choose between losing valuable income or providing loved ones, and themselves, the care they need.

The United States is the only OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) country that does not provide paid maternity leave nationwide. More than half of the nations in the OECD provide paternity leave to fathers, and paid leave is given to both parents in 23 OECD countries.

The FAMILY Act would make workers in all companies, regardless of size, eligible for up to 12 weeks of partial income for family and medical leave, including pregnancy, childbirth recovery, serious health condition of a child, parent, spouse or domestic partner, birth or adoption of a child and/or military caregiving and leave. Workers could earn 66% of their monthly wages, up to a capped amount. If passed, this legislation would explicitly prohibit employers from discriminating or firing employees who have applied for or taken paid family and medical leave.

The act would also establish the Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave, a new office within the Social Security Administration designed to administer these benefits. The costs for providing this leave would be covered by small employee and employer payroll contributions of two cents per $10 in wages, which comes to around $1.50 a week for the average worker. This is a small price to pay for something that will likely benefit every worker at some point in their life.

Access to paid family leave promotes healthy child development and promotes family economic security. It gives parents a chance to adequately care for their newborns or children with special health care needs. For example, men are more involved with their child’s direct care when they are able to take off two or more weeks after the birth of their child and women are available to breastfeed their newborn. The presence of fathers, domestic partners, and other significant others would lessen the workload required of new mothers while simultaneously combating unhealthy stereotypes regarding familial roles and allowing mothers to return to the workforce faster.

The Center for American Progress estimates that working families lose around $20.6 billion in wages annually due to a lack of paid family and medical leave. The FAMILY Act would provide working parents with the economic security needed to provide for and raise healthy, happy children.

Paid family and medical leave also promotes family financial independence. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, new mothers who take paid leave are over 50% more likely to receive a future pay increase. Mothers who do not take paid leave, on the other hand, are 39% more likely to need public assistance to care for their family than those who take paid maternity leave.

There is growing momentum towards establishing universal paid family and medical leave. States such as California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York have all successfully implemented paid leave programs for their workers.

As an organization committed to securing the economic security of America’s families and children, First Focus Campaign for Children applauds and supports the reintroduction of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act.


White House Proposal to End Government Shutdown Targets Children Seeking Asylum

| January 23, 2019 |

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to call up legislation that advances a proposal from President Trump to reopen the federal government in addition to authorizing billions of dollars for a border wall and instituting a policy that would significantly restrict asylum for children from Central America.

At first glance, the administration’s plan appears to restore an Obama-era program when the U.S. government recognized that children were fleeing their home countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to escape gang violence, gang recruitment, and horrific violent crimes against women and young girls.

This program for Central American minors (CAM) created a legal pathway to protect children from smugglers and traffickers that preyed on their vulnerability during the dangerous trek to the United States. But the Trump administration rescinded this program in 2017.

Unfortunately, the 3-year program in the proposed spending bill differs drastically from the original CAM program. Instead it serves as a deterrent for asylum seekers rather than an additional form of support for vulnerable children. The proposal would effectively ban asylum for minors who apply at the U.S. border and for those who do not meet the new eligibility requirement of having a “qualified parent or guardian” already living in the United States.

“A national of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras who is younger than 18 years of age and is outside of the U.S. as of the date of the enactment of the Central American Minors Protection Act of 2019 shall be ineligible for asylum unless—‘‘(I) the alien submits an application for asylum outside of the U.S. at a Designated Application Processing Center in Central America…”

In addition to the new requirements for eligibility, the logistics of the program include limiting application approvals to 15,000 per year, imposing a fee to cover the cost of the application, and shifting the burden of applying for asylum onto traumatized children. According to Gregory Chen of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the program isn’t slated to be operational for nearly a year (240 days) after the bill’s enactment, but these minors are immediately excluded from asylum at the border.

Alarmingly, this proposal also guts protections for unaccompanied children in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) to allow for the deportation of minors to both contiguous and non-contiguous countries without judicial review. This means that children presenting themselves at the border to seek refuge would be denied the ability to have their case heard by an immigration judge and expeditiously sent back into the dangerous situations from which they were fleeing.

Trump has used the plight of Central American children to advance his anti-immigrant agenda. On multiple occasions, he expressed a desire to keep immigrant and refugee children safe through closing “legal loopholes.” Ultimately, the administration’s recent proposal to end the very government shutdown that it began reveals a harsh reality—that the best interests of children is not the driving force behind its agenda.


The Raise the Wage Act of 2019 Would Benefit Millions of Children

| January 18, 2019 |

 

This week, Senators Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray, as well as Representatives Bobby Scott, Mark Pocan, Stephanie Murphy, and several others reintroduced the Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the national minimum wage annually, until it reaches $15 per hour in 5 years. The number of cosponsors for this bill has grown exponentially over the past two years, now reaching 31 in the Senate, and 181 in the House.

The current nationwide minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, or, as Sen. Sanders refers to it, the “starvation wage,” has not been increased since 2009.

If passed, the Raise the Wage Act of 2019 would increase the minimum wage to $8.55 per hour this year, and then rise every year until reaching $15 by the year 2024. The bill would also eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped employees (currently $2.13), as well as the ability of certified employers to pay disabled workers subminimum wage.

The prospect of doubling the minimum wage by 2024 presents an opportunity to not only improve the lives of American workers, but also their children. According to a fact sheet put out this week by the Economic Policy Institute, 41 million workers would benefit from this raise in pay, 28% of whom have children to support.

This means that over 11 million children would directly feel the positive effects of a new minimum wage.

According to a 2015 report by the Children’s Defense Fund, parents working full-time at the federal minimum wage and supporting two children earn $4,700 below the poverty level. Increasing the wage from $7.25 to $10.10 would reduce child poverty by 4% and lift 400,000 children out of poverty.

States such as Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Maine, and others have approved raising their minimum wages in recent years. For example, Maine voters approved a referendum to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour in 2016. This wage has gradually increased each year since and is currently $11 an hour as of January 1, 2019.

The benefits of this are already tangible to Maine’s workforce and their children. According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, 44,300 children (17%) lived in households which earned less than the poverty level in 2016. That number dropped 4% to 33,000 children (13%) in 2017 after just one year of increasing the minimum wage.

According to researchers at Indiana University, raising minimum wage by a mere $1 would contribute to a 9.6% decline in reports of neglect of children between the ages 0-12. Parents who live in a constant state of financial instability and struggle to provide enough resources for their children often suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression, making it more difficult to respond to their children’s emotional needs. Increased income therefore improves financial stability, improves the physical and mental health of children and families and in turn, child maltreatment rates.

First Focus Campaign for Children is proud to support the Raise the Wage Act of 2019, which would empower millions of American workers with children to provide critical resources such as nutritious food, health care, adequate shelter, warm clothing, and educational materials to support their children’s healthy development.

For more analysis, on the effects of increasing the minimum wage and how it would affect children and families, see our previous post on this issue.


New Year, New Opportunity to Reduce Child Poverty

| January 4, 2019 |

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally published on Medium.

When you think about the common elements of New Year’s resolution, they often include steps to save money, improve health and treat others better.

Making a resolution to end child poverty in the United States checks all these boxes. Ending child poverty would save our economy trillions of dollars each year, result in healthier children, and is the right thing to do for millions of our nation’s children and families.

This year provides a critical opportunity for progress. In the next few months, the National Academy of Sciences will be releasing a landmark consensus study focused on child poverty, which will include an analysis of current research around the impact of child poverty on child well-being, the economic costs to our society, and an examination of current domestic and international efforts to reduce child poverty.

By also including a set of nonpartisan, evidence-based recommendations to cut the child poverty rate in half within a decade, the report will lend credibility to the idea that child poverty is a solvable problem as well as provide a tool in raising awareness.

First Focus leads the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), a partnership of over 20 national organizations dedicated to cutting child poverty in half within a decade. For the past two years, CPAG has worked to elevate the issue of child poverty in the U.S. though information sharing, policy education, and direct advocacy. In April 2018 we released Our Kids, Our Future, a compendium of over 20 policy solutions that can significantly reduce child poverty and support a better quality of life for all children.

We know from the United Kingdom that child poverty is a solvable problem when there is the political will to address it. This winter, CPAG will launch a national campaign, End Child Poverty U.S., to build political will and urge federal lawmakers to establish a national target to cut child poverty in half with a decade and eliminate it within 20 years.

The future of our nation depends up on the well-being and success of our children. We encourage lawmakers to make a resolution in 2019 to prioritize reducing child poverty.

To receive updates on the End Child Poverty US campaign and get involved, please sign up for our CPAG listserv and follow us on Twitter at @CPAG_USA.

Additional resources:

First Focus Campaign for Children Proactive Kids Agenda for the 116th Congress

A Snapshot of Children Living in Poverty: 2017

Comments for National Academy of Sciences Information Gathering Session on Child Poverty

 


Recommendation to Rescind Anti-Bias Guidance for School Discipline Will Harm Students and Reduce School Safety

| December 20, 2018 |

On Tuesday, the Federal School Safety Commission formed in the wake of the tragic school shootings in Parkland, Florida, issued its report with recommendations on policies to improve school safety. Unfortunately, the report recommends the rescission of “Rethinking Discipline,” the policy guidance that the Department of Education and Department of Justice issued in 2014 to address one of the main drivers of the school-to-prison pipeline: glaring disparities in school discipline of black and disabled children and youth that pushes them out of school and into the criminal justice system. Rescinding the Rethinking Discipline guidance will not make schools safer. Instead, it will only serve to increase high school drop-out rates, push greater numbers of students into our criminal justice system, contribute to hostile school climates, and cost our nation billions in criminal justice and other expenditures.

The school-to-prison pipeline is the product of draconian school disciplinary policies that require suspensions, expulsions, school-based arrests, and referrals to law enforcement for relatively minor, non-violent infractions, such as tardiness and insubordination. Although students of color do not misbehave more than white students, a recent GAO report shows that these zero-tolerance policies are disproportionately enforced against students of color and disabled students. From suspensions and expulsions to in-school arrests and referrals to the juvenile justice system, black students are overwhelmingly subject to disparate disciplinary actions.

For instance, in 2014, black students comprised 15.5 percent of all public-school students, yet represented 39 percent of students suspended from school in 2014. To put this disparity in context, though white students outnumbered black students by 17 million in K-12 public schools in 2014, nearly 176,000 more black students were suspended from school than their white peers. Meanwhile, black girls are suspended more than 5 times as often as white girls and at higher rates than any other racial group. Unfortunately, these disparities begin as early as preschool. Black children are just 18 percent of public preschoolers, yet nearly one-half of preschool children with more than one suspension are African American.

Similarly, students with disabilities, who comprise 12 percent of all public school students, accounted for nearly 25 percent of students who were suspended, referred to law enforcement or arrested for a school-related offense. The discrepancy is even worse for black students with disabilities, with more than 1 in 4 black boys with disabilities, and one in five black girls with disabilities suspended every year.

Inequalities in school discipline create lasting harm. Students who are expelled or suspended from school are nearly 3 times more likely to drop out of school and have contact with the juvenile justice system the following year. There is a direct correlation between high school drop-outs and our high rates of incarceration. Nationally, 68 percent of all males in prison do not have a high school diploma.

In addition to the devastating impacts on students of color and disabled students, exclusionary disciplinary measures bear a steep national price tag. Students who drop out of school earn less money, and thus pay less in taxes. They are less likely to have health insurance, leading to worse health outcomes and greater health care expenditures. They are more likely be arrested and incarcerated, which costs taxpayers in prison costs. And they are more likely to rely on public assistance. According to the UCLA Civil Rights Project, the suspension of 67,000 10th grade students over one year cost our nation in excess of $35 billion annually.

The Federal School Safety Commission’s misguided recommendation to rescind the guidance ignores what the facts clearly tell us. The school-to-prison pipeline reduces educational opportunities and perpetuates racial disparities, fuels youth entering our juvenile justice system, and contributes to hostile school environments. The recommendation also stands in stark contrast to Congress’s bipartisan passage of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018, which requires states to track data on racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and develop concrete plans to address those disparities, which include addressing the root causes of youth entering the criminal justice system.

We urge the Federal School Safety Commission and Secretary DeVos to reject the Commission’s recommendations and instead work with school districts to expand upon the 201guidance to eliminate the school to prison pipeline.