Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Poor people, poor schools

John Edwards was conspicuously quiet in the three weeks following Katrina. Not so anymore.

His silence was particularly noticeable because his message was centered on eradicating poverty and here was a clear cut case of poverty brought out of the closet and into plain view. And it was ugly. Where was Edwards to say "I told you so." Well, it appears Edwards, to his everlasting credit, wasn't the "I told you so" type.

But no politician can (nor, in this case, should) stay quiet forever. Edwards has been tearing the Bushies a new one over the last few days.

Thomas Oliphant of the Boston Globe captured the spirit of Edwards' message this week in an editorial that appeared yesterday. He quoted Edwards from a speech made to People For the American Way:

''Nobody who works full-time should have to raise children in poverty or in fear that one health emergency or pink slip will drive them over the cliff," said Edwards.

Instead of Newt Gingrich's Conservative Opportunity Society or President Bush's even more narrow-minded Ownership Society, Edwards's conceptual framework surrounds the country most of us know every day: a Working Society. Bill Clinton famously aimed his 1992 presidential campaign at the Americans willing to ''work hard and play by the rules," and in the 1990s there was finally some progress in what have to be the twin objectives of national policy -- promoting vigorous economic growth and making long-delayed progress against poverty.

Those objectives have suffered in the first half of this decade, and Edwards is pushing for a revival.

Anyone concerned about education and children in America must also be concerned about poverty.

Test scores almost always correspond to household income and, far more importantly, so do high school and college graduation rates. A child in poverty is very likely to become an adult in poverty and right now one in every five children lives in poverty.

To make any real and sustained effort to reduce the achievement gap, we must also reduce (dare I say, eradicate?) poverty.

According to Human Events Online, one of Edwards' proposals for hurricane relief was to provide "Housing vouchers to let families move into areas with better schools, instead of giving school vouchers." It's an intriguing idea. Hey, conservatives, instead of "school choice" (in which choice doesn't include the schools your kids go to) how about "neighborhood choice" (in which choice does include your 'hood)? Something tells me they aren't going to like it.

Edwards will undoubtedly be a political force in the future. His political skills are evident. And his message is one that more and more Americans (unfortunately squeezed by short-sighted Bush Administration policies) understand -- firsthand.

I don't know much about Edwards' education policy positions, but I look forward to hearing him make the connection between poor schools and poor people. I want to hear him say that to improve the former, we have to improve the conditions of the latter.


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