Top 5 Reasons Sen. Alexander’s Draft Education Bill Fails Students

Democrats and Republicans agree Congress should reauthorize the outdated Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). However, Senate Republicans, led by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), introduced a draft reauthorization bill earlier this week – titled “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015” – that would do the opposite. In other words, the needs of the most vulnerable students are least served by Alexander’s bill.

While President Obama pronounced education equality as “the civil rights issue of our time,” Alexander’s proposal turns back the clock and perpetuates existing inequities in education. Here are 5 reasons Alexander’s bill fails disadvantaged students:

1) Opens the door to drastic budget cuts: The bill eliminates the “maintenance of effort” (MOE) provision, which requires districts receiving Title I funding – extra money for schools serving low-income students – to maintain state spending on education at roughly the same level as the previous year. The MOE provision is important because it keeps states honest. It ensures that federal dollars intended to better educate poor children are used for that purpose, instead of displacing general revenue.

2) Diverts funding away from students who need it most: Alexander’s bill allows states to opt out of the current Title I formula and send money out on the basis of the percentage of poor students. The current formula, while problematic for many reasons, targets Title I funding to schools with concentrations of poor students.  Alexander’s proposal would significantly dilute the funding, sending it to schools with higher income populations and limiting the ability of the funds to reach students who need it most.

3) Lowers academic standards: After graduating, students will enter a global economy. But will they be prepared to compete? Alexander’s bill requires states to establish a different (read: lower) set of standards for students who aren’t planning to go to college and abolishes the requirement that standards for students who do intend to go to college be internationally benchmarked. By creating a two-track system, Alexander’s bill will limit the life prospects for students living in poverty and in low-income communities. By lowering standards – and allowing states free reign to set them wherever they want – his bill threatens our nation’s future economic competitiveness. A risk that we can’t afford to take when we are 26th in the world in math.

Alexander’s proposal turns back the clock and perpetuates existing inequities in education.

4) Rolls back school accountability: What happens when schools are consistently and chronically failing students? According to the Alexander bill, not a whole lot.  The bill all but eliminates school accountability. While states must develop an accountability system, there are no requirements for these systems, leaving states free to ignore underperforming students and deny them their best hope of breaking the cycle of poverty and rising to the middle class: a good education.

5) Denies parents vital information about student performance: For parents looking to determine where to send their child to school, the Alexander bill takes away one of the most useful sources of data: comparable student achievement results. The bill provides two options for testing – and both options leave parents in the wilderness. The first option allows states total flexibility to decide when and where to assess student progress. The second option retains annual student assessments but allows them to vary by district. This approach would make it difficult, if not impossible, to meaningfully compare student performance across districts. These provisions would also lead to decreased accountability and allow underperforming students to fly under the radar.

Just as important as what is in Senator Alexander’s bill is what is not. We know that the Title I formula is wildly unjust and unequal, providing more than three times as much per pupil spending for poor students in Wyoming than in neighboring Utah, for example. Yet Alexander’s proposal does nothing to more fairly allocate limited federal funds, leaving the overly complex and not well-targeted formulas in place.  We also know that high-quality early childhood education is one of the greatest resources for improving long-term outcomes for children living in poverty. Quality early childhood programs have been linked with improvements in employment rates and earnings, reduced dependency on public assistance and crime, and even elevated family well-being. Yet Senator Alexander failed to provide any additional investments in early childhood.

So, how could we improve Sen. Alexander’s ESEA reauthorization bill? To start, an effective reauthorization must include college-and career-ready standards, statewide annual assessments that lead to better, fairer, and fewer tests, meaningful statewide accountability systems, measures that make funding practices fair and efficient, and a substantial investment in high-quality early childhood education. These provisions will help ensure that all students have an opportunity for success.




Roe Should Be a Reality for All, Not Just for a Wealthy Few

Today is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S. The decision did not simply affirm a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, it ensured safe services for all women seeking an abortion. Forty-two years later, we no longer have the health crisis of women dying in “back alleys,” but we do face a crisis rooted in economic inequality and women’s struggles to obtain comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion services. The onslaught of restrictions introduced and passed since 1973 compounds a stark reality for low-income women, women of color, and young women – Roe is not a reality for everyone.

In truth, the promise of Roe existed in both spirit and law for just 2 years. From 1973-1975 abortion was legal and covered by the Medicaid program, which ensured that low-income women had equal access to abortion care. But in 1975, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment that restricted federal dollars from paying for abortion services for poor women. Since then advocates, activists, and legislators alike have struggled to maintain the essence of Roe as state legislatures took the lead on passing laws reminiscent of a pre-Roe era.

For decades reproductive health, rights, and justice advocates have fought to protect the legalization of abortion only to see its access and availability eroded at both the federal and state levels. At the federal level, the Hyde Amendment spawned similar amendments that restrict abortion coverage for military personnel, veterans, federal employees, Peace Corp volunteers, Indian and Native women, and incarcerated women. And in 1992, the Supreme Court issued a divided judgment in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs. Casey that weakened Roe considerably. On the one hand, it upheld key provisions of Roe, namely that states cannot ban abortion before the point of viability of the fetus. But it also ruled that states could regulate abortions to protect the life of the woman or the fetus; medical technology could alter the point of viability; and, no law could impose an undue burden on women to obtain legal abortion services. Moreover, the court found that the 24-hour waiting period laws were not an undue burden. This Supreme Court decision, unfortunately, is the law of the land.

States have been allowed to pass extreme restrictions, thus perpetuating a cycle of oppression for the most vulnerable women.

These federal budget amendments and Supreme Court rulings opened the door for state legislators to incrementally – and creatively – circumvent a woman’s right to determine if and when she will parent and to do so with dignity. Thus far, states have been allowed to pass extreme restrictions, and in doing so perpetuate a cycle of oppression for the most vulnerable women, namely those living in states with high rates of poverty, limited access to preventive services, and other regressive policies such as voter ID laws and right-to-work laws. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 30 states have enacted more than 205 abortion restrictions since 2011.

Texas, the poster child for anti-woman policies, offers proof of just how burdensome accessing abortion services can be for low-income women and families. Since 2013 Texas has cut family planning services and passed a law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles, as one provision of the Targeted Regulation Abortion Providers (TRAP) legislation. Since the TRAP legislation passed Texas has gone from having 41 clinics to 17. A federal appeals court will determine this year if the TRAP building code provisions – such as the widening of hallways and increasing airflow – are constitutional. These new laws, combined with an already long list of restrictions, have made Texas one of the most hostile states for women’s health in the nation.  Previous restrictions include mandatory counseling that is biased; a 24-hour waiting period between counseling and having the procedure; mandatory ultrasounds; a prohibition on Medicaid coverage; and a prohibition on medication abortion provided via telemedicine.

Moreover, the cost for low-income women can be devastating. In Texas, one in six women must drive in excess of 200 miles to reach a clinic providing services. The 24-hour waiting period almost guarantees that those arriving from border towns or rural areas will have to pay for a hotel. If she is already a parent, as most women who have abortions are, she may need to pay for childcare too. Those working in low-wage jobs most likely do not have paid leave and could risk losing income or job if they take time off. And the cost of first trimester abortions without insurance coverage is approximately $500. But the longer a woman waits, the higher the costs will be. Research shows that too often women forgo basic needs – like paying rent – in order to obtain this legal medical procedure. Collectively or individually, these factors can force low-income women into worse financial circumstances.

We celebrate Roe as a standard and a vision that we must continue to strive for as a nation. All women, regardless of age, gender, income, socio-economic status, or funding source of insurance should benefit from its promise. And our fight for justice isn’t done until all woman have comprehensive reproductive health care, including the access to abortion services.




Of Stereotypes and Slack Reporting Standards: The Economist’s Claim that Native American Gaming Leads to “Sloth”

In his extensive research, Princeton political scientist Martin Gilens shows how “racial stereotypes have played a central role in generating opposition” to economic security programs in the United States. As Gilens notes, “In particular, the centuries-old stereotype of blacks as lazy remains credible for large numbers of white Americans.” Gilens concludes “racial distortions in the media’s coverage of poverty are largely responsible for public misperceptions of the poor.”

Gilens’ book was published in 1999. In our view, media coverage of poverty has improved since then. This is probably due to increased diversity in the new media and as well as a better understanding—as a result of the work of Gilens, Shanto Iyengar, and others—of how distorted media representations can negatively affect public perception of policy issues.

But an article in this week’s The Economist is a reminder that we haven’t put the bad old days of racially distorted coverage of poverty beyond us. The article claims “cash from casinos makes Native Americans poorer.” According to the author, a particular problem is that tribes distribute part of the revenues directly to members—typically known as “per capita payments”—which encourages “sloth.” The article is accompanied by a photograph of an American Indian man in front of a slot machine, a grin on his face and his arm pumped in the air.

We haven’t put the bad old days of racially distorted coverage of poverty beyond us.

Given research like Gilens’ and the long history of stereotyping American Indians as lazy, The Economist should have been particularly careful to ensure that it had solid evidence to back up its claim. In lieu of such evidence, The Economist relied on a few anecdotes and a single article by a private attorney published in a student-run law review.

We took a closer look at the law review article that The Economist relied on and were not impressed. It purportedly shows that poverty was more likely to increase in certain Pacific Northwest tribes that distributed part of their gambling revenues to members than in those that did not. But there were only seven tribes (out of a total of 17 that the article focused on) that did not distribute gaming revenues directly to members. The total reported decline in poverty among these seven tribes amounted to only 364 people. The study contained no controls for any of the many factors that affect poverty rates, nor did it take into account size differences in the tribes, differences in the size and structure of the per capita payments, or other relevant factors. In short, the study is absolutely useless in terms of providing meaningful evidence to support The Economist’s claim.

Even worse, The Economist failed to mention the existence of rigorous, peer-reviewed research contradicting the article’s thesis. Unlike the single paper cited in the article, this research uses methodologies designed to isolate the causal effects of per capita payments and generally finds that they have positive effects on poverty and other indicators of children’s well-being. For example, research by William Copeland and Elizabeth Costello, both professors at Duke University, uses longitudinal data that tracks both American Indian and non-American Indian children in western North Carolina. After the introduction of a per capita payment for American Indian families, they documented “an overall improvement in the outcomes of the American Indian children while those of the non-[American] Indian children … remained mostly stable.” Strikingly, educational outcomes for American Indian children “converged to that of the non-[American] Indians,” and the arrest rate of American Indian children fell below that of non-American Indians.

Similarly, in research using the same data set published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Costello and her colleagues found that poverty declined among American Indian families after the introduction of per capita payments and also led to improvements in children’s behavioral health.

In addition to research that examines per capita payments, there is a larger body of rigorous research looking at the overall effect of gaming on poverty, employment, and other indicators of well-being. On balance, this research finds positive effects. For example, University of Maryland economists William Evans and Julie Topoleski compared outcomes in tribes that opened casinos with those that did not.  Among tribes that opened casinos, Evans and Topoleski found increases in population and employment, declines in poverty, and some improvements in health. Similarly, Barbara Wolfe and her colleagues found that being a member of a gaming tribe “leads to higher income, fewer risky health behaviors, better physical health, and perhaps increased access to healthy care.”

This isn’t to say that Tribal members and their governing bodies shouldn’t continue to have thoughtful debates about the design of per capita payments or the best balance to strike between direct payments and investments in their social and economic infrastructures. As sovereign governments, they’re already doing that with the benefit of research and the wisdom of their members. Moreover, although you won’t learn it from The Economist, there is a structure in place, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, that requires tribes to submit plans to Department of Interior before adopting per capita payments.

There is little question that American Indians—both those affiliated with gaming tribes and those who are not—face some of the most severe income, health, and education disparities in our country. If The Economist had wanted to take a serious look at how public policy impacts poverty rates on reservations they would have examined far more pressing topics like the potential benefit of Medicaid expansion for the Indian Health Service, proposals to strengthen the tribal education system, or efforts to address the disproportionately high suicide rate among Native youth. Instead, this story plays into discriminatory stereotypes about American Indians.

We urge The Economist to meet their own journalistic standards and to set the record straight by providing a historically informed discussion of the real issues faced by American Indians today.


Announcement & TalkPoverty: 12 Days, 12 Actions You Can Take to Fight Poverty is proud to collaborate with as it focuses exclusively on poverty coverage over the next two weeks.  Every day, visit to discover a new action you can take to help turn the tide in the fight against poverty.

With a new conservative-led Congress, most people devoted to helping individuals and families living on the brink aren’t feeling terribly optimistic about the prospects for positive action at the federal level.  (With the exception, perhaps, of action on criminal justice reform.) In fact, we will almost certainly need to redouble our efforts simply to defend programs that are currently working.  Remember, poverty would be approximately twice as high—nearly 30 percent—without the safety net.

But as my friend and colleague at the Center for American Progress, Melissa Boteach, constantly says when she talks about poverty with activists—we can’t simply play defense, we’ve got to stay on offense.

Melissa is right, and frankly, with more than 1 in 3 Americans living below twice the poverty line—on less than about $37,000 annually for a family of three—it’s going to take a visible, disruptive, and non-violent movement if we are to create an economy that is truly defined by opportunity as well as a robust safety net that is there for us when we need it.  To some extent whether it’s conservatives or progressives who are in the Majority, our task remains the same: we must build a dynamic movement.

In the two weeks ahead, will feature a post every day by an anti-poverty leader.  Every day, one of these contributors will offer an action you can take to advocate for people who are struggling and to help build the movement we so urgently need.

Beyond these two weeks, we hope you will keep reading, which has long demonstrated its commitment to poverty-related issues.  Sign-up, too, for weekly emails, and we will continue to bring you the voices and ideas of people who are struggling in poverty as well as posts by other anti-poverty leaders.

There is nothing inevitable about poverty.  The only questions that remain are the same ones we have faced for so long: are we committed to dramatically reducing poverty?  And, if so, what are we willing to do to advance our goal?

Over the next 12 days, we hope the ideas offered by our contributors will provide valuable openings for your activism. will keep adding to the list each day here—bookmark the page to see all the big ideas. Please share this link and your thoughts below in the comments and via Twitter using #12Days.

The Media Must Tell the True Story of Struggle in America

by Deepak Bhargava

Last year, Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly did a segment on poverty where he asserted that “poverty will not change until personal behavior does,” explaining that anti-poverty work will never overcome “addictive behavior, laziness, [and] apathy.”

In many ways, the segment sums up a widely-held myth constructed by the right that people who struggle to make ends meet don’t want to work. But in reality, people are working harder and harder for less and less, and all we have to do is listen to the stories of everyday Americans to see the truth.

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Protect and Expand Workers’ Ability to Bargain

by Sarita Gupta

Greedy corporations have been on a decades-long bender to take advantage of working people – depressing wages, benefits and job standards, which has led to record inequality and poverty.

Fighting poverty requires expanding and protecting the ability of workers to bargain with their employers to demand higher wages, better working conditions and better living standards. As the nature of work changes, we look at collective bargaining through the union workplace campaign lens, but also through nontraditional forms, including legislative, policy, rulemaking and industry-wide interventions that put more money in workers’ pockets and improve standards and conditions for workers. Only through bargaining do workers have the power to directly confront the corporate actors behind poverty and inequality.

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Make Public Higher Education in the United States Completely Free

by Maxwell John Love

Fifty years ago, the US National Student Association (The United States Student Association’s predecessor) declared its support for “the establishment of free public higher education throughout the United States financed by the local, state and federal governments, with the purpose of furthering the freedom of the individual and the critical spirit which ensures a dynamic and democratic society.”

Last week in Tennessee and last night in his State of the Union address, the president said the words ‘free’ and ‘college’ in the same sentence. The administration’s proposal is a big deal. It would offer funding to states to completely eliminate tuition at community colleges (on average $3,800). The funding would also not be last-dollar, meaning students could receive additional aid to offset living expenses.

We welcome the president to the fight for free college, and we believe that all public higher education in the US should be free!

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We Need to Expand the Most Effective Anti-Poverty Program in America

by Alex Lawson

In order to fight poverty, one of the easiest and most effective things we can do is to expand our Social Security system. Social Security lifted 22 million Americans out of poverty in 2012, including one million children. Without Social Security, 44.1 percent of all Americans over the age of 65 would be living in poverty; with Social Security that rate is 8.9 percent.

Social Security isn’t just for seniors – it is also the primary disability and life insurance protection for most of America’s workers. Social Security provides around $580,000 in disability insurance protections and $550,000 in life insurance protections.

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Low Wages Are a Moral Crisis in Our Time

by Sister Simone Campbell

Having worked as a family law attorney for 18 years in Oakland, California, I know that the single greatest cause of the breakup of families is economic stressors. This is especially true for the working poor families of our country.

Working for poverty wages creates family conflict when you have to choose between paying for rent and food, phone or medicine. This stress causes friction, blame and break-ups.

But it isn’t just families who suffer because of low wages. All workers working for minimum wage today need more than one job to get by.

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Protect and Strengthen Medicare and Medicaid Programs for Another 50 Years

by Kevin Prindiville

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, two programs that play a key role in ensuring that elderly and disabled Americans have access to health care and are not bankrupted by its costs.

Before Medicare and Medicaid were created in 1965, 35 percent of Americans over 65 did not have health insurance, leaving a huge uninsured aging population with either insurmountable doctor and hospital bills, or more frequently, no health care at all.

While we celebrate the fact that millions of people are better off now than they were in 1965, we must be aware that access to health care is continually threatened by program cuts, and millions of beneficiaries have trouble accessing the care they are entitled to because the programs don’t always work as well as they could.

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Support Human Rights for Food Supply Chain Workers

by Coalition of Immokalee Workers

The CIW’s Fair Food Program and Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) model have transformed Florida’s $650 million tomato industry. The program is the gold standard for human rights in the fields today, including: worker-to-worker education on rights, a 24-hour complaint line and an effective complaint investigation and resolution process — all backed by market consequences for employers who refuse to respect their workers’ rights.

Now in its fourth season, the Fair Food Program is poised to expand, and bring respect and dignity for workers to new crops and new states. As underscored by the phone call from the former strawberry worker — that expansion can’t come soon enough.

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Slash Child Hunger

by Joel Berg

Even though the United States is the wealthiest and most agriculturally abundant country in world history, food insecurity now ravages 49 million Americans — including nearly 16 million American children. This often-overlooked mass epidemic harms health, hampers education, traps families in poverty, fuels obesity and eviscerates hope, while sapping the US economy of $167.5 billion annually, according to the Center for American Progress.

For our kids to be well read, they must first be well fed.

That’s why in order to achieve other vital national priorities — such as fixing public education, restoring the middle class, expanding opportunity, reducing crime and incarceration, making health care more affordable, protecting the nation from enemies, and slashing poverty — we must also end hunger in America, starting with child hunger.

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Stand with Native Youth and Support “Generation Indigenous”

by Erik Stegman

American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) youth face more barriers to success than almost any other group in the country. Thirty-seven percent of AIAN children under 18 live in poverty, significantly higher than the national child poverty rate of 22 percent (according to the American Community Survey).  The AIAN graduation rate is the lowest of any racial and ethnic group at 68 percent. Perhaps most stunning, suicide is the second leading cause of death for AIAN youth between ages 15 and 24 — they commit suicide at 2.5 times the national rate.

But these youth have a new partner in their movement for stronger economic and cultural opportunity: the president.

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We Can Reduce Child Poverty by 60 Percent Right Now


Marian Wright Edelman

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “America is going to hell if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all God’s children to have the basic necessities of life.”

Today, 150 years after the end of slavery, every other black baby in America is poor. Every third Hispanic baby is poor. Nearly every fourth rural child is poor. All told, there are 14.7 million poor children and 6.5 million extremely poor children in the United States of America. It is a national disgrace that such an unconscionably large number of children are homeless, hungry and living in poverty in a country with the world’s largest economy.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

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We Should Ensure Access to Safe and Affordable Rental Housing

by  Sarah Edelman and Julia Gordon

Since the foreclosure crisis in 2008, the nation has gained more than four million renting households, and demographers expect an additional four million households to become renters over the next decade. At the same time, the homeownership rate has declined from nearly 70 percent to 64 percent.

This influx of renters has put significant upward pressure on rents. According to the Consumer Price Index, as most other expenses have held steady in recent months, rent expenses continue a steep upward climb. Half of all renters spend more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing, while 27 percent spend more than 50 percent — both sharp increases over the last decade. When the rental market tightens, the lowest-income renters feel the pressure first.

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Stop Punishing People After They Have Been Released from Prison

by  Jeremy Haile

In America, we punish people for being poor. But we’re also one of the few democracies that punishes people for being punished.

Consider the felony drug ban, which imposes a lifetime restriction on welfare and food stamp benefits for anyone convicted of a state or federal drug felony. Passed in the “tough on crime” era of the mid-1990s, the ban denies basic assistance to people who may have sold a small amount of marijuana years or even decades ago and have been law-abiding citizens ever since.

The Sentencing Project found that the legislation subjects an estimated 180,000 women in the 12 most impacted states to a lifetime ban on welfare benefits.

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TalkPoverty Readers on What Obama Should Say in #SOTU

This week, in anticipation of President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, hosted a Twitter storm, asking participants to explain why the President should #TalkPoverty during the State of the Union (#SOTU) and what he should say about our economy and families living on the brink.

In a single hour, nearly 500 participants posted 1600 tweets. Those tweets reached 5 million unique Twitter streams. For all of you who participated, thank you!

Beyond the impressive numbers and reflections, the Twitter storm demonstrated two things.

First, the facts and figures tweeted by organizations and online activists reveal the intersection of race, age, and gender in poverty statistics: That one in seven women are poor and that a majority of minimum wage earners are women is society’s failing. That 50 percent of African-American babies and one-third of Latino babies are poor is society’s failing. That men of color, and their families and communities, suffer overwhelmingly from an excessively punitive criminal justice system is also society’s failing.

Second, there is a formidable and passionate community that cares deeply about poverty in America and is working hard for change. There is strength in our numbers, and part of how we will succeed in making our agenda a political priority is by continuing to #TalkPoverty, continuing to collectively make our case, and coming together to take action however and whenever we can.

We hope that the President will prioritize the dramatic reduction of poverty not just in his State of the Union address, but in the remainder of his presidency.  In doing so, we hope he will help inspire high-quality media coverage of poverty that has been lacking, and strong legislation at the local, state and even federal level.

Please join TalkPoverty and other online activists again on Tuesday, when we will be live tweeting during the State of the Union address. Offer your thoughts using #TalkPoverty and #SOTU, and ask your friends to join us.  Also, don’t miss our first episode of TalkPoverty Radio on SiriusXM Insight this Saturday at noon.  Witness to Hunger member Tianna Gaines-Turner will talk about the state of her community in Philadelphia, and will be joined by Senator Sherrod Brown, Melissa Harris-Perry, and other special guests.

Thanks for all you do. Here were some of our favorite tweets:

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