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Hey, Tennessee: How Much Children Get to Eat Should Not be Linked to Their Report Card

Carrot on a stick

Um, this is a metaphor. No one expects you to really threaten a kid with not eating, Tennessee

By all means, threaten to withhold dessert from children who misbehave or simply aren’t doing well in school because they’re goofing off.

However, you don’t threaten to make children go hungry because they’re grades aren’t up to par. You. Just. Don’t.

Unless you live in Tennessee, that is, and you’re among the lawmakers considering a piece of legislation that would reduce welfare benefits for families whose children are under-performing in school.

According to NBC News, the bill “requires the reduction of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments for parents or caretakers of TANF recipients whose children fail to maintain satisfactory progress in school.”

A low-income family whose child’s math, reading or language arts grades are not satisfactory will see their benefits reduced by 20 percent.

Incidentally, families who are not receiving welfare benefits will not be penalized in any way if their children perform poorly in school

Rep. Vance Dennis, who is one of the bill’s sponsors, told Knoxnews.com that the bill is meant for “parents who do nothing” and the bill is meant as a “carrot and stick approach.”

However, what Rep. Dennis is, perhaps, failing to see, is that withholding food from a family is not a long-term solution to the immediate problem of eating for many families who are in need of assistance to put food on the table. It puts undue pressure on children to have their families eat — something they shouldn’t have to worry about, especially if they’re already worrying about their schoolwork. Maybe that kind of pressure not to starve would work on a fat-cat politician, but to a family already under so much stress that they’ve had to apply for government assistance? Really?

And a “carrot and stick” approach is a metaphor, you’re not supposed to actually dangle food in front of needy people. You’re supposed to feed them with the food.

Fortunately not all Tennessee officials support the legislation. Rep. Gloria Johnson calls the bill “discriminatory” and “one more way to punish families who have fallen on hard time,” saying she doesn’t believe “for a second this will be anything to improve a child’s education.”

“To add the responsibility of the family budget on these kids, it’s not going to help these kids.  It’s not going to move them forward,” Johnson said. “[The bill] sets up a terrible relationship between families and educators,” Johnson continued.  “It sets up animosity between school and home.”

SB 132 would go into effect in the 2013-2014 school year if it passes on April 3.

Why not try withholding a couple of Rep. Dennis’s meals prior to the vote and see how he feels then?

Photo credit: iStockphoto

More from Meredith on Babble:

Follow Meredith on Twitter and check out her weekly column every Friday on the Op-Ed page of The Denver Post at MeredithCarroll.com

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