Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

As the Georgia Legislature reconvenes next week, the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) is calling on lawmakers to make poverty-fighting measures one of their top goals. Along these lines, GCO has released the following 5 recommendations to reduce poverty in Georgia and expand economic mobility:

Civil Asset Forfeiture

GCO produced a report (PDF download) examining Georgia’s civil asset forfeiture procedures. Civil asset forfeiture laws allow for an arrested person’s property to be seized, sold, and the proceeds used for law enforcement purposes, even if a person is not convicted of a crime. Our report makes several recommendations to improve transparency and accountability in this program. GCO will seek to have our recommendations passed into law.

Occupational Licensing

Following up on legislation passed last year benefiting spouses of our brave military personnel, GCO will support legislation to allow many other people who move to Georgia and hold an occupation license to immediately be granted a provisional license. This will allow these new Georgians to immediately go to work and support their families.

Criminal Justice Reform

GCO will support legislation that seeks to remove suspending the driver’s license of a person late on their child support payments. We approach this topic with sensitivity, knowing these payments are meant to support children, but losing a driver’s license impacts the debtor’s ability to work—and thus the ability to pay. There are better ways to hold people accountable for past due child support.

Education Scholarship Accounts

GCO has long supported empowering parents by creating Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). We will support such legislation again this year. ESAs take the state portions of a child’s education funds and allow parents to seek other educational pathways for their child. This is especially important in the time of COVID-19, where face-to-face instruction is limited but still extremely important to a child’s development.

Special Needs Scholarship Program

Last year, GCO championed legislation to fix a loophole in Georgia’s Special Needs Scholarship Program that has been keeping thousands of otherwise eligible children out of the program. The legislation passed the Georgia Senate, but was sidelined when the pandemic hit our state. We will work to see this legislation pass both Legislative Chambers and be signed successfully by Governor Kemp this year.

The GCO team will keep you updated throughout the session as we work on these priorities. Keep up with us on Facebook or Twitter for regular updates and be sure to join us for Get Buzz’d a live update on Facebook from our VP of Policy, Buzz Brockway. Buzz shares his insight into how policies will impact your everyday life.

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps: The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps: The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps:

The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

By Shana Burres

Cody and Estelle are a young married couple living in a suburban neighborhood. Cody has a full-time job and Estelle is a nanny so she can have their daughter with her at work. They make just enough money to pay the rent on their small home and pay their bills, but there is rarely anything left over each month. They are not middle class but they are above the poverty line, and they are facing a potential financial crisis because of health care costs.  

Cody’s work offers an insurance plan but does not subsidize the cost and the monthly premium for a family is more than their rent. Because of the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they qualify for a government-subsidized plan. The coverage is poor and the deductibles are high. They are one emergency room trip or unexpected surgery away from a dire financial situation.

Cody is working on building a part-time freelance business so they can have some savings and buy a more reliable car. But he is hesitant to promote it because too much of an increase in income will push them over the ACA’s income threshold and they will lose their health care subsidy. They still wouldn’t be able to afford the employer-sponsored plan and would lose coverage entirely. 

They are facing the welfare cliff, forced to choose between self-improvement and maintaining necessary services. If they increase their income, they are at risk of falling into the welfare gap—too much income for services, not enough income to cover the costs.

The implications of the loss of health care coverage reach into their and their daughter’s future. Health insurance, and the associated continuity of care, correlated directly with academic success in the short term and life success in the long term.  At a  basic level, health care means that students are better able to engage in their academics and miss fewer days of school.

In slightly more complex terms, lacking health insurance, along with other factors related to instability, is part of the social determinants of health. These social determinants are a cluster of lived experiences that include food instability, homelessness, and poverty. They are direct predictors of poor health and, as noted, poor health contributes to poorer academic and social outcomes. While programs or funding can often address homelessness and poverty, food instability is a reflection of the resources a family has available to purchase food. For a family like Cody and Estella’s, this may be seen as the choice between groceries and paying for an urgent care visit and a prescription for their daughter. 

For them and the vast majority of people in the United State, health insurance is the barrier to care. People who live at or below the poverty line have access to medical coverage through Medicaid. And families who live far above the poverty line can access health insurance through work or afford to pay for the premiums through the health exchange. However, the evidence shows that children who are near, but not under, the poverty line have the lowest rates of health insurance. These children and their families live in the welfare gap, a reality for many living in Georgia. This means that Georgia’s families need solutions for ongoing health care to support their long-term success.

The most effective solutions are those that acknowledge the immediate needs of families and address the need for policy change. Currently, many programs are aimed at the individual or involve community-based interventions that partner health care with social service delivery systems. And these programs can be useful and effective as solutions to the immediate needs of families living in the welfare gap. Unfortunately, these health management programs do not address the upstream institutional, systemic, and public policy drivers of the distribution disparities. 

Georgia’s families deserve upstream solutions that address the welfare gap and support their efforts to be participants in their health care and long-term outcomes. Three interconnected approaches offer equitable and proven access:

Untether healthcare from employers

According to the US Census Bureau, approximately 55% of people have access to health insurance coverage through their employer. This tethering of health insurance to employment leads to disruptions of coverage due to job loss or change. Therefore, untethering healthcare from its connection to employment would allow people to pursue jobs, education, or entrepreneurship free from the limitation of health insurance access or cost. 

Make shopping for health insurance easier

As cost is the most significant factor influencing people’s access to health insurance, the second approach is to make shopping for health insurance the same as shopping for any other type of insurance. Individuals could compare coverage, cost, and other options across multiple providers, which would empower them to choose the product best suited to their particular needs. Currently, most people have little to no choice in which insurance product they receive from their employer and the cost is more closely related to the company’s ability to negotiate a favorable contract than it is to the types of benefits the employees need. 

Offer government subsidies that do not create welfare cliffs

Of course, employers often also subsidize a portion of their company health insurance plan, and subsidies are one of the ways insurance is made more affordable for their employees.  The third approach, government subsidies, would ensure these benefits are equitable and accessible to the whole population and not reliant on an employer. While government-funded health insurance already exists and subsidies are available through the ACA marketplace, the current method does not address  welfare cliffs or close the welfare gap. Therefore, the policy should be updated to a means-tested  eligibility system that eliminates marriage penalties and the breakpoints that contribute to the welfare cliff. 

For our couple, Cody and Estelle, this new approach to health insurance would allow them to gain sufficient coverage for their whole family without spending a disproportionate amount of their income on health care costs. It would allow Cody to build his freelance business and improve their quality of life without fear of losing health insurance while their income grows. 

Every person in Georgia deserves to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Access to healthcare is a necessary component of their success. These three approaches will remove barriers to access, equalize costs, and ensure support is available to those who need it. 

Shana Burres is an educator, foster parent, and speaker. She holds a Master’s degree in education and, as the former executive director of DASH Kids, is a fierce advocate for equitable outcomes for children of all backgrounds and experiences. Shana currently is an adjunct professor, learning development consultant, and her local Mockingbird HUB home for foster families and their youth.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.

New GCO poll: 81% of parents support educational microgrants during COVID-19

New GCO poll: 81% of parents support educational microgrants during COVID-19

New GCO poll: 81% of parents support educational microgrants during COVID-19

 

By David Bass

The Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) today released the results of a parent opinion poll that found 81 percent of respondents in favor of using federal emergency relief funds to help parents cover some educational costs during the coronavirus pandemic.

The poll, taken of a random sample of 721 Georgia parents, also found that such microgrants would encourage parents to make alternative educational decisions for their children: 59 percent of respondents reported that a one-time microgrant of $1,000 would either prompt them to send their child to a different school or help out in their existing decision to do so.

Recently, a coalition of education reformers sent a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp urging him to use the remaining portion of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to directly support students through the challenges of virtual learning. Currently in Georgia, the governor’s office is the only entity in the state with the ability to provide families with this desperately needed help.

The poll results back up what we already know: Offering direct payment assistance to Georgia families is the best way to keep vulnerable students from falling further behind during this crisis. A one-size-fits-all approach to education never works. We must offer as many families as possible maximum flexibility in their education decisions this year. Empowering parents directly with funds puts them in the driver’s seat and cuts out bureaucratic obstacles. This step simply takes available additional federal funds and gives parents the most help, the fastest, right when they need it the most.

Megan and teacher at table

A Survey Of How The Average Georgia Family Is Navigating Education During The Pandemic

These microgrants would help students like Hannah Foy, a 13-year-old with Down syndrome. Hannah has been isolated at home since March and is falling behind. “Putting education dollars directly into the hands of parents means that our children have a greater chance of not falling behind,” wrote Hannah’s mother, Elizabeth, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The funds will come nowhere close to meeting the needs of students like my daughter, but they will help to bridge the gap until schools can fully reopen again.

Other key findings from the poll include:

  • 57 percent said their children learned “far less” or “somewhat less” than they had when they were in their pre-shutdown school.

  • Only 12 percent of respondents said their school did “badly” or “very badly” during the coronavirus crisis. Thirty-three percent were neutral and 55 percent said their school did “well” or “very well.”

  • Only 18 percent of respondents thought that their schools did not provide enough resources to their children.

  • 33 percent thought that there was “much work” or “far more work than I imagined it would be” to teach their children because of the shutdown.

  • Only 6 percent are considering homeschooling their children when last year they were not home schooled.

Equitable Options In Education

Equitable Options In Education

Equitable Options In Education 

By Shana Burres 

Ashley* is a middle-class mom. She is married with three kids and, through a scholarship, has her children enrolled in a local well-respected private school. She was pleased to be able to provide her children with an excellent education and believed they were gaining an advantage in their academic career. 

A few years into elementary school her son, John, was excelling academically but struggling with basic social and life skills. After a series of tests and meetings with doctors and experts, John was placed on the Autism spectrum. He was diagnosed as high-functioning, with a high IQ and all the potential to learn how to navigate a neurotypical world. 

Ashley immediately withdrew John from the private school and enrolled him in the local public school. 

Why? “Because Ashley believed public schools would offer better services for her child with special needs.” This is due, in part, to the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which provides funding to public schools specifically to meet the needs of students with disabilities and learning barriers. 

Fostering Public Health

Long before the IDEA legislation, public schools were used as a way to foster public health and welfare. The earliest integrations of public education and welfare were introduced during the progressive era, starting in the 1890s and continuing into the 1930s. Progressive leaders advocated for the school curriculum to address matters such as health, recreation, and mental health (at the time called mental hygiene). On the heels of the progressive movement, the Truman administration signed the 1945 National School Lunch Act, which provided free or low-cost nutritionally-balanced meals to school children. Coupled with the work of the Freedman’s Schools established in the Reconstruction Period (1865-1877), the education system in the United States has a deeply established pattern of being a source for public health and welfare. 

While there are certainly many middle-class students like John who have benefitted from the services established and developed in the last 150 years, the vast majority of students who rely on the school as a public health arena are living near the poverty line.  According to The US Census report on poverty, one in six children live in poverty, making them the poorest age group in our nation. Children are also most likely to suffer the long-term effects of poverty such as poor educational outcomes, higher instances of injury and chronic illness, and diminished mental and emotional capacity. Each of these factors feed into a poverty loop that increases the likelihood of the next. For example, when a student has a chronic illness and diminished emotional capacity, they miss more days of school and are less able to make up the work from the time missed. Consequently, they fall further behind and are less likely to earn high enough grades to graduate and move into vocational training or college education. So the cycle begins again, as they are trapped in unstable and low-wage jobs, poor health care, and poor outcomes. 

Georgia’s Educational Challenges

In Georgia, sixty percent of the student population qualifies for free or reduced-cost lunch. While free lunch may be offered at private schools, the marker is used to represent the over one million students who face a statistically higher risk for the long-term effects of poverty. And, as noted at the beginning of the blog post, the public school is a key welfare access point. When the public schools are inaccessible to families already facing significant barriers, the children lose not only academic instruction but a cascade of critical services. Safety, health, learning or development support, and nutrition are among just some of the key services that disappear along with daily instruction. 

Those types of cascading losses have been brought into stark relief as the nation responds to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It appears we have built a system that relies too heavily on a physical building for the delivery of services. And while new programs like Georgia’s P-EBT have begun to respond to the nutrition gap created by school closures, there remains the questions of how students will catch up academically, who will observe and report domestic abuse, and how students will access mental and social services. 

A Better Way Forward

And these questions bring the focus toward a golden opportunity. As Georgia is forced to look at programs and services differently, we can disentangle the various services to improve the delivery and outcomes across the board. For example, under the old framework, any student could access free- or reduced-cost lunches at their local public school. However, some districts and schools provided a greater complement of services for students with individualized education plans (IEPs). The variances in services provided from district to district contributes to the cascade of poorer outcomes for students living in chronic poverty—but we have the opportunity to change this reality. In fact, Georgia already has systems in place that disentangle the range of services while ensuring the optimal outcome for the individual student through their state school, charter, and virtual school programs.  

The public school will likely always be a public health arena but, as we are quickly learning, equitable public education and social services cannot be bound to the physical local school. We can and should continue to improve the academic, health, and social outcomes for the students of Georgia through creative, flexible, and more open methods of delivery. 

Interested in how you can help support flexible and equitable options? Click here.

Name changed to protect the identity of the individual

Shana Burres is an educator, foster parent, and speaker. She holds a Master’s degree in education and, as the former executive director of DASH Kids, is a fierce advocate for equitable outcomes for children of all backgrounds and experiences. Shana currently is an adjunct professor, learning development consultant, and her local Mockingbird HUB home for foster families and their youth.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.

COVID-19 Makes the Case for Educational Flexibility Even Stronger

COVID-19 Makes the Case for Educational Flexibility Even Stronger

COVID-19 Makes the Case for

Educational Flexibility Even Stronger

By Benjamin Scafidi 

With respect to school openings during this COVID-19 pandemic, a public health professor recently observed, “There are no ideal solutions here. No matter what schools do, they won’t make everyone happy.” Of course, that is true in the monolithic K-12 education system we have now.  But we can move away from a monolithic system. We can move to a system that empowers parents with more choices.

Calls for giving families choice in K-12 education go back to Thomas Paine in the Rights of Man, John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, and—the modern father of choice in education—Milton Friedman. Instead of giving government exclusive control over taxpayer funds for the education of youth, Paine, Mill, and Friedman suggested that taxpayer funds should go directly to families of school-aged children—where families would decide where their children are educated. The core issue is this: Who decides how taxpayer funds for education are spent—the government, as is largely the case now, or families?

 

Many reasons to support expanded educational opportunity

There are so many reasons to give families more choice in K-12 education. The balance of the extensive empirical research finds that choice programs have improved student achievement and educational attainment for students who exercise choice and improved outcomes for students who remain in public schools. Further, private schools appear to do a better job of providing students with important civic virtues like tolerance and volunteerism, and private school choice programs have promoted integration. And choice programs, including Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program, have been designed to save taxpayers money

Giving parents control over where their children are educated allows them to choose school and non-school offerings that are tailored to their children’s interests and needs. Under such a choice system, prospective schools and other education providers are incentivized to provide customized educational and social environments that meet the interests and needs of students and their families. And the evidence—including evidence here in Georgia—suggests that families that exercise choice are overwhelmingly much happier with the services in their students new schools of choice. 

In this era of COVID-19, there are now additional reasons to support educational opportunity—families have different health risk tolerances; families, students, and teachers have different underlying health conditions; and families have different health preferences. Public school districts going fully online do not permit families to sort their children into schools (and teachers to sort into schools) based on their varying health preferences. When entire public school districts go entirely online, they are providing what many families desire, but they are not providing what many other families want or need. 

As an example, a family with (a) one parent who can stay at home or work part-time from home; (b) a family member with an underlying health condition; and (c) older children may be delighted that their public school is fully online.

However, other families may not be happy with fully online schools. A family with one parent who works full-time outside the home; (b) young children; and (c) no underlying health concerns may desire five-day, full-day, face-to-face schooling with safety precautions. Online schooling may force some parents to quit their jobs. Of course, families of children with special needs may be subject to the most hardships with online schooling.

It is impossible for a one-size-fits-all approach to health concerns to meet the needs of all families. Meeting the diverse educational and social needs and interests of children—and now the differing health needs of students and their families in this era of COVID-19—is only possible in a choice system. 

 

What can states do to provide more educational choice to families? 

First, to the extent permitted by federal law, states should use existing and forthcoming federal education funds to offer families choice. South Carolina and Oklahoma are using federal CARES funding to provide scholarships for school-aged children. South Carolina is providing scholarships to defray private school tuition costs up to $6,500 for 5,000 students from low- and middle-income families, where $6,500 is just over half of what taxpayers spend to educate students in their public schools. 

Second, states should create new choice programs or expand existing ones.

The track record of existing education choice programs in the United States is strong. COVID-19 only makes the case for choice stronger. Hopefully, policymakers will rise to the occasion and give students and families an educational lifeline during these challenging times. 

 

BenJamin Scafidi

BenJamin Scafidi

Benjamin Scafidi is the director of the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University and a Friedman Fellow at EdChoice.

EVERY CHILD WITH ACCESS TO A QUALITY EDUCATION

 

A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

Children excited as they leave school

Microschools, hybrid options, and online classes: Education during COVID and beyond

Microschools, hybrid options, and online classes: Education during COVID and beyond

Microschools, hybrid options, and online classes: Education during COVID and beyond 

 

By Eric Wearne 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the afternoon of Monday, July 20—just a few weeks before schools would normally be opening—the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta announced that their schools would in fact all be opening for live classes in August. The Superintendent’s statement suggests “…the benefits of in-person instruction, compared with remote delivery, far outweigh the possible risks involved.” Families uncomfortable with in-classroom instruction may choose online instruction, following individual school plans.   

Just a few hours before the announcement from the Archdiocese, Gwinnett County Public Schools—the largest public school system in the state—announced that they would be starting the school year completely online. Though the system had announced earlier that it would give parents the choice between in-person and online learning, the most recent statement says, “The current COVID-19 situation required a change in those plans.” This has led to significant online anger and multiple protests at the system’s central office.

Both the Catholic Archdiocese schools and Gwinnett County Public Schools say they based their decisions following federal and state health guidelines and the advice of medical and educational experts. Why, then, such opposing decisions from the two school systems? Are the health guidelines contradictory? Are the Archdiocese and Gwinnett cherry-picking the medical and educational experts they listen to?     

Likely none of the above. What we may instead be seeing is simply that smaller entities can be more nimble. And that larger entities would be well-advised to do what they can to learn from that agility. 

At an event earlier this month, the founder of the growing microschool network Prenda, Kelly Smith, suggested that an important lesson all school systems might learn from smaller organizations—especially given the large health, economic, and educational issues presented by the pandemic—is  that they should accept and in fact facilitate more segmentation among their constituents. This may be particularly true for public school systems like Gwinnett, which encompasses a relatively large geographic area and serves over 180,000 students in 141 different schools. Many students would benefit from more choices in schooling even under completely normal circumstances. At a time when everyone’s circumstances are even more unique and individualized because of the differential impact of the pandemic on families, more flexibility is even more important.

A major complication in this debate is that the reasons families want to return to school vary so much.  That is, for some families, the dynamics of learning at home simply do not work well. As examples, some families have students with special needs who require particular kinds of attention. Some families must work outside the home to survive financially. (A number of services are cropping up around Gwinnett County and elsewhere to facilitate online learning or simply childcare, set up by gyms, YMCAs,  performing arts centers, or other places that are typically not full during the school day. While this is an example of civil society and the market responding to fill a need, it comes at a cost—sometimes a few hundred dollars per month, which many families cannot afford). 

Some believe any school openings for face-to-face learning means the school/system will not adapt no matter what circumstances arise and that such decisions are consigning people to die.  Of course that is not true. The Archdiocese of Atlanta and other private and public schools who are offering face-to-face schooling will continue to monitor schools and said they will close down quickly if necessary.

It is too early to know whether opening schools in-person will lead to a worse health crisis, or keeping them online will lead to even worse economic and psychological crises.  Other creative solutions, like moving as many classes as possible outdoors, or operating on a hybrid home school-style schedule (2-3 days per week) might be worth exploring to a greater extent than they have been so far. 

One thing both public and private schools should absolutely do in this moment is learn to be more responsive to smaller groups of constituents, rather than imposing singular, large-scale solutions.  Families must, one way or another, find their way through this school year. They are already building solutions for themselves, outside of the constraints of their school systems. Legislators in Colorado, among other states, are considering whether to fund families directly in response to school closures. School leaders need to adapt, quickly, or risk being left behind.

 

Eric Wearne is a faculty member in the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University.

He is also the author of Little Platoons: Defining Hybrid Home Schools in America, forthcoming from Lexington Books. Learn more about Eric. 

EVERY CHILD WITH ACCESS TO A QUALITY EDUCATION

 

A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

Children excited as they leave school