Tennessee To Consider Tying Welfare to School Performance

A bill tying welfare benefits to the school performance of children has cleared hurdles in the Tennessee House and Senate after changes were made to exclude parents in special circumstances.

The new bill is being pushed by conservatives in the state. It threatens to cut Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments by 30 percent to any family whose child is not keeping up in school.

The bill's proponents see it as a prompt that will force more parental involvement in education by poor parents. Changes were made to exclude home schooling families and parents of special needs children. There are also ways parents can avoid the consequences by signing up for parenting classes or taking other steps to signal a desire to improve. Rep. Vance Dennis said the revised bill only targets "parents who do nothing."

Democrats are pushing back against the proposed legislation. Rep. Gloria Johnson says it will put "the burden of the family budget on children’s performance in school." She also feels the bill is unfair since it does nothing to address the performance of students from higher-income households. Of course, the higher-income households aren't receiving welfare benefits from the state.

The measure has now been cleared for a vote in the State Senate and is one step away from a vote in the House. However even if approved it may face other hurdles. A law passed in Florida in 2011 required drug testing of individuals receiving TANF payments; however, this was challenged in court and, on appeal, a federal court upheld the ban on implementing the law. Opponents successfully argued that a drug test was an unconstitutional search.


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