Many elementary school students might spend their time thinking of new excuses to stay home sick from school, but if HB 1040, proposed by Missouri Rep. Steve Cookson (R-153), is passed, children whose parents are welfare recipients will be doing quite the opposite. The bill, introduced April 2 to the Missouri House of Representatives, has a proposed effective date of Aug. 28, 2013. This means the bill, whose full text reads, “School age children of welfare recipients must attend public school, unless physically disabled, at least 90 percent of the time in order to receive benefits,” would start affecting students during the 2013-14 academic year.
Although this bill only has had two reads and is not on the House schedule, I urge Missourians to contact their representatives and speak out against this bill. There is no reason to let it get farther in the legislative process than it has.
First of all, the bill is poorly written. HB 1040, which is only 25 words long, is too short and leaves too much room for interpretation. At the very least, Cookson shouldn’t underestimate the intelligence of his constituents. If Cookson wants to pass a bill, he should be less vague.
The bill places too much responsibility with the children of welfare recipients. Welfare is supposed to make a child’s life easier by enabling parents to provide a healthy environment for their families. By passing this bill, we would be telling these families that their safety and security depends on their child. What happens if their child gets a mononucleosis infection?
I understand why some people might think this bill is a good idea. It widely is acknowledged that building a good foundation in primary education can lead to success in secondary education and, in turn, post-secondary education. This is key to breaking the cycle of poverty. A 2004 study conducted by the Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community examined the role of post-secondary education in welfare recipients’ paths to self-sufficiency and determined college graduation is associated with lower rates of return to welfare. Missouri currently is ranked 13th throughout the U.S. for amount of welfare recipients, according to statemaster.com.
Therefore, ensuring children of welfare recipients are in school makes perfect sense in order to lower Missouri’s welfare rates. However, we should institute programs that encourage attendance through positive, not negative means. Who is to say ensuring a child is in school will increase his or her chances of success? Even if we institute this policy, to some extent, the child still is in charge of their own success. It will be up to the child and their family to make sure the child is keeping up with homework and paying attention during class.
What will be next? Will we require students to maintain a 3.0 GPA to receive welfare? You can’t force academic success. If anything, Cookson should spend more time thinking of ways to instill an ideology that emphasizes education as a means of success. Change occurs at a personal level. This bill would just be a Band-Aid for the larger problem of academic apathy among young children.
Cookson has a knack for sponsoring poorly thought out legislation and I’m starting to question his decision-making. He is the same representative who sponsored HB 2051, otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which “prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation in public school instruction, material or extracurricular activity except in scientific instruction on human reproduction.” Although it doesn’t promote bullying, it certainly doesn’t discourage intolerance toward these groups. We need representatives who want to pass helpful, fair, well-researched and well-written legislation.
Welfare is not meant to be a permanent crutch. Like most people, I would like to see fewer people receiving welfare. I am not debating whether or not more hurdles need to be added to keep unworthy individuals from receiving welfare — those decisions are far more difficult to make — but a bill tied to something as unpredictable as a child’s health is irresponsible and harsh legislation that should be stopped in its tracks immediately.