Public education serves as an indispensable community infrastructure for breaking the generational transmission of poverty. But of course poverty among students and their families burdens and challenges schools.
North Carolina has 800 high-poverty schools, including traditional public schools and publicly funded charter schools. In general, these schools operate at lower academic levels than schools filled with middle-class students and wealthy families.
Reducing the number of students burdened with poverty would raise the burden and enhance the educational prospects of the state. In fact, it’s not just the poor who have been hit, but schools as well as the federal tax credit for children expires this week.
Under the pandemic “bailout” package enacted last spring, the dollar tax credit was increased and designed so that families receive payments each month rather than a lump sum at tax time. The researchers estimated that expanding the tax credit for children would reduce the incidence of poverty by 40%.
The Biden administration’s “Build Back Better” legislation would extend the credit booster by a year. Objections to the multifaceted legislation from all Republicans and two Democrats blocked the vote in the US Senate.
Using census survey data, the Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities recently reported that most low-income families spend monthly payments on “basic necessities—housing, food, clothing, and utilities—and education.” As educational expenses, they spent the money on books and supplies, tutoring, transportation, and after-school programs.
The CBPP also provides state-by-state estimates of the scope of the child tax credit. The report says that in October 2021, monthly payments went to 1.18 million North Carolina households. If the credit is not extended, he adds, 2.08 million children under the age of 18 will “lose”.
In a report released in December, the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund compiles the latest data on child poverty and hunger in the state. The fund shows that poverty rates for children under 18 declined during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, but rose between 2008 and 2019, when 19.5% of North Carolina youth lived in poverty, higher than the national average of 16.8%.
Also, six out of 10 school students qualify for free and reduced lunch. The qualification includes not only students who live in poverty but also those who live in low-income families not much above the poverty line. The pandemic has revealed how important school meals are.
The fund’s report was written by UN University Law Professor Jen Nicholl and research fellow Heather Hunt, and points to the trend toward concentrated poverty. More than one million children live in very poor neighborhoods, in major cities, as well as in less populated communities.
“Concentrated poverty stifles children’s prospects,” Nicole Hunt writes. “Recent studies have shown that as a child grows up it has a significant impact on his or her chance of success later in life…the more time a child spends in a low-opportunity location, the greater the impact. Among the characteristics that distinguish low-opportunity neighborhoods are concentrated poverty, and racial segregation. and economic growth, struggling schools, weaker measures of social capital, and increased income inequality.”
North Carolina needs to extend the federal tax credit for children, as well as investments in early childhood and family welfare programs in the Better Rebuilding legislation passed by the House. North Carolina, for its part, needs a comprehensive effort focused on high-poverty/low-performing schools in order for the state to propel many young people toward the American dream of upward mobility and the pursuit of happiness.