Sunday, February 20, 2005

No child left... in poverty?

Be sure to check out Molly Ivins' column from last week highlighting the budget cuts announced by President Bush. It is directly related to the argument I made last week about inequitable funding.

Read any overview of [Presidents Bush's budget] proposal, and you can see exactly who's getting screwed: children.

Good Lord, what a nasty document. The cuts are in health care, childcare, Head Start, nutrition programs, food stamps and foster care. Because budgets are such abstract things – add a little here, cut some there, all produced by the Department of Great Big Numbers – it's hard to see what they actually mean to real people's lives.

In fact, that's something I've long noticed about George W. Bush: He really doesn't see any connection between government programs and helping people. Promoting the general welfare, one of the six reasons the Constitution gives for having a government in the first place, is not high on his list. I refer you back to his immortal statement while governor: "No children are going to go hungry in this state. You'd think the governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas." He'd been governor for five years at the time.

What this budget means, quite literally, is that more kids will be hungry and malnourished. More kids who get sick will be unable to see a doctor, more kids with diseases will go undiagnosed until they get so sick they have to be carried to the emergency room. More kids who need glasses or hearing aids won't get them, causing them to fall behind in school. More kids will show up to start school without being in the least prepared, and they will remain behind for the rest of their days. Less money for childcare means more kids left alone or in unsafe places with irresponsible or incapable people while their parents work. More kids who are being severely abused will go unnoticed, and fewer of them will find safe foster homes.

And guess what, folks? Disaggregated test scores don't -- and can't -- tell this story. The achievement gap is not about lazy and uncaring teachers and it's not about the soft bigotry of low expectations. It's about the very hard bigotry of poverty. Until we accept that fundamental fact, we cannot make any progress-- period.


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