Wed Jun 10 16:53:38 CDT 2009
Their teachers must frequently reorganize classrooms and review old
lessons. With continuity lost, stable students also suffer.
Rather than trying (and failing) to compensate with extra school
programs, why not attack excessive mobility head-on? One cause is no
mystery: the dearth of affordable housing. Many families double-up with
relatives, moving on when stress becomes too great. Others fall behind in
rent and are evicted, resettling in other school zones.
Federal guidelines say families should spend only 30 percent of
income on shelter, if resources are to remain for other needs. Forced to
spend more, poor families often raid food budgets to pay rent. Children
then suffer nutritionally, compounding cognitive problems. According to the
Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research group, 80
percent of working poor families with children spent more than 30 percent
of income on housing in 1995. Nearly half of these spent more than 50
President Clinton plans to ask Congress to expand the federal
rent subsidy program to cover 120,000 additional low-income families.
Although Mr. Clinton is not presenting this as an education initiative,
such housing programs could actually have a big effect on student learning
-- if they help reduce the transiency of children whose families cannot
otherwise afford stable living places.
Rental aid, called Section 8 vouchers, is one way to help.
Nonprofit groups also help by building affordable units financed by
tax-free private investments and federal, state, and local subsidies.
An example is West Park apartments, down the street from Hyde
Park Elementary. This 60-unit complex was erected with public money and
then sold to a nonprofit manager. But West Park alone barely dents the
neighborhood's rental crisis.
State and federal housing programs are terribly underfinanced.
Only one-fourth of working poor families receive any federal housing
assistance. In Los Angeles, Section 8 waiting lists are so long that no new
applications are accepted. Hyde Park's principal, Brenda Rogers, says she
often hears parents bemoan their inability to obtain vouchers.
The President's proposal would add $690 million a year to Section
8.But an added $3 billion is needed to cover all working families with
children who spend more than 50 percent of income for rent.
This is not a lot of money compared with school money now
intended to improve scores of poor (and often mobile) students. Title I
(federal aid to schools with poor children) now costs nearly $10 billion a
year. Most states supplement this with extra compensatory money. This
spending might be less needed if poor children had stable residences with
some quiet space for homework. They could then remain in the same
classrooms long enough to make a difference.
Improving academics is not the only reason to subsidize housing
for the working poor. Yet to raise scores, people usually think only of
school reform, forgetting that dollars spent elsewhere might help. By
focusing only on schools, government may waste money trying to fix academic
problems that it could have prevented in the first place at less expense.
Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
Director, Public Policy Program
International & Public Affairs Center
1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, CA 90041
Phone: (323) 259-2913
FAX: (323) 259-2734
More information about the Colist