Well, here we go again. DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown says he wants to compel parents in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to go to parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings.
If they don’t they’ll lose their cash benefits and the right to send their children to charter schools. Only exceptions here would be cases where they could document a permissible excuse for their absence.
A similar proposal died a quiet, deserved death in 2008. Brown says things are different now because, as head of the Council, he directs the Education Committee. So he’s got “control to at least have a hearing.”
But why should we revisit an idea that was roundly criticized first time round?
Well, Brown says, “We’re holding our teachers accountable, our principals accountable, our chancellor accountable — parents have to be accountable too.”
But we don’t have much leverage to force accountability on parents who aren’t poor enough to qualify for TANF.
All Brown could come up with last time was to deny those whose kids are in charter schools the right to keep them there.
No penalty for those with kids in regular public schools. And it’s hard to imagine what such a penalty might be.
Well, I guess we could haul them into court, as Loudoun County does when kids are chronically tardy. But we know Brown won’t go there.
The inequity of the proposal should be enough to kill it. But the problems are more fundamental.
First and foremost, the sanctions Brown proposes would harm the poor children whose education he’s so concerned about.
No more cash for their clothes or school supplies. No cash to make up the shortfalls in food stamp benefits. No cash for rent for the roughly two-thirds of TANF parents who don’t have subsidized housing.
Haven’t we read enough about how hungry, homeless children don’t learn so well?
Second, parents may miss teacher conferences and PTA meetings for lots of reasons that can’t be documented.
What if a kid gets sick, but not sick enough to be rushed to a doctor? Or is that sick but can’t get in to see one? Where’s the document then?
What if the parent can’t afford the Metro fare? What if she can’t find anyone to look after her kids?
What if she doesn’t speak English?
Last time Brown proposed his parental engagement bill, public policy consultant Susie Cambria wrote a brief that recommended the use of carrots instead of sticks, plus some measures to facilitate participation.
Still seems to me the right way to go — if the Council feels the need to jump on this issue at all.
I personally think it’s got more pressing problems on its plate than how to create more hoops for poor parents to jump through.
UPDATE: Just as I posted this, the Washington Examiner reported that Brown has backed off his plan — sort of. Says he hasn’t written a bill. Doesn’t mean that he — or more precisely, his staff — won’t.