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E(race)ing Inequities | Students of color less likely to earn industry-recognized certificate than white peers, report finds
By James E. Ford and Nicholas Triplett
August 27, 2019
This is an excerpt from “E(race)ing Inequities: The State of Racial Equity in North Carolina Public Schools” by the Center for Racial Equity in Education (CREED). Go here to read the full report and to find all content related to the report, including the companion report Deep Rooted.
WorkKeys is an alternative ACT test that is intended for high school students who plan to pursue career and technical diplomas. According to ACT, WorkKeys scores are intended to help students and employers compare potential employees on necessary skills (ACT, 2018). Over 23,000 employers, including over 3600 in North Carolina, recognize and/or recommend a WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate as a measure of foundational workplace skills (ACT, 2019).
WorkKeys measures applied mathematics, locating information, and reading for information. Students earn tiered certificates: Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and No Certificate. According to ACT, Inc., a Gold certificate indicates that a student possesses skills for approximately 85% of jobs that have been profiled by WorkKeys, a Silver certificate indicates that a student possesses skills for approximately 65% of jobs that have been profiled by WorkKeys, and Bronze indicates that a student possesses skills for approximately 30% of jobs that have been profiled by WorkKeys.
In 2012-13, WorkKeys became part of North Carolina’s school accountability program. The state administers the ACT WorkKeys assessment to all students pursuing a Career and Technical Education (CTE) diploma who complete CTE course sequence prior to graduation. The NC Department of Public Instruction positions WorkKeys as a gauge of career readiness and is widely recognized as an industry credential (http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/cte/directory/). As part of the CTE program, state and local educational agencies maintain partnerships with business and industry as a means of providing students with clear pathways to jobs in their chosen career.1
Approximately 44,000 students took the WorkKeys assessment in North Carolina in 2016-2017. Figure 10.1 shows the proportion of WorkKeys test-takers and the proportion of total North Carolina student population by racial/ethnic group.
White and American Indian students took WorkKeys at higher rates than their proportion of all North Carolina students. Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Multiracial students took WorkKeys at lower rates. The difference between the proportion of WorkKeys participation and proportion of total student population is highest for White students.
Figure 10.2 shows the percentage of students attaining a Silver certificate or higher by race/ethnicity. See Appendix A, Table 6 for data on all WorkKeys certificate levels.
Approximately 71% of students who took the WorkKeys assessment received at least a Silver certificate (Silver+). Asian and White students attain Silver+ certificates at the highest rates, followed by Multiracial, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander students. American Indian and Black students are least likely to attain Silver+ certificates. If Black students had achieved at the state average for WorkKeys, approximately 2000 more Black students would have attained Silver+ certificates.
We also built statistical models to predict the likelihood of attaining Silver+ while controlling for other potentially relevant factors. In Model 1, scores were predicted based on race/ethnicity alone. Model 2 controlled for gender, socioeconomic status, language status, special education status, and previous achievement. White students were the comparison group for all other racial/ethnic groups.
Race/ethnicity remained a significant and substantial predictor of attaining a Silver+ WorkKeys certificate for all student groups of color after accounting for other factors, except in the case of Pacific Islanders. The largest racial disparity existed between Black and White students, such that Black students were 61% less likely than White students to attain a Silver+ certificate net of other factors.Furthermore, the effect of being Black was approximately twice that of free/reduced lunch eligibility. Giftedness was the strongest predictor overall, such that AIG students are 8.3 times more likely to attain a Silver+ certificate than their non-AIG counterparts after controlling for race/ethnicity, gender, SES, language, and special education status.
With the exception of Hispanic students, race/ethnicity does not appear to exert a strong influence on which students take the WorkKeys assessment. However, there are substantial racial disparities in WorkKeys performance, with Asian and White students scoring well above the state average and American Indian and Black students scoring far below the state average. Furthermore, in comparison to White students, American Indian, Black, and Multiracial students were predicted to have dramatically lower rates of Silver+ certificate attainment after controlling for potentially relevant factors.
The observed racial disparities in WorkKeys performance suggest that among students working toward CTE diplomas, non-Asian students of color, particularly American Indian and Black students, are over-exposed to the risk of graduating without the necessary skills to transition into jobs across numerous career pathways. When viewed in concert with our analysis of ACT scores, our analysis of WorkKeys further suggests that non-Asian students of color are at increased risk of failing to meet the state’s explicitly stated goal of college and career readiness for all students.
Blackjewel left coal miners without pay. Now it might leave Appalachia thousands of acres of land to clean up.
By Mason Adams
August 25, 2019
On a hot morning in late July, coal miner Jeffrey Willig sat in the shade of a tent as his six children played next to the train tracks in Cumberland, Kentucky, where a pickup truck blocked a coal train. Willig and many other miners had lost their jobs nearly a month before when Revelation Energy and Blackjewel, two of the most powerful coal companies in the U.S., abruptly filed for bankruptcy.
Willig worked in Revelation’s Cloverlick 3 mine in Harlan County for years. Before Revelation, he worked for Alpha Natural Resources, and before that, for Black Mountain Resources, an Alpha subsidiary once owned by Massey Energy, another major coal company. Willig was in the mines when Alpha went bankrupt in 2015 — but that was different, he said.
Many Revelation and Blackjewel miners’ paychecks, which were already in their bank accounts, were taken out when the companies filed bankruptcy. Some families had already paid their monthly bills, and they overdrafted. “See, when Alpha shut us down, they still paid us for six months,” Willig said. “They didn’t just leave us like, ‘Hey, here you go, you’re done.’”
On July 29, Willig and other miners blocked the tracks after hearing that a crew was loading a train car with more than $1 million worth of coal to ship out. It’s been nearly a month, and miners, including Willig, are still on the tracks.
“I just want to see us get paid what we worked for,” Willig said on the second day of the blockade. “I’m not expecting for us to get our jobs back. It’s plain and simple. Usually when you make a stand like this, you’re not going to get a callback, so I’m not expecting that.”
The Revelation and Blackjewel bankruptcies put nearly 1,700 miners out of work across Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The companies owe $11.8 million in back pay and benefits to miners in central Appalachia, according to Ohio Valley ReSource. But those costs pale in comparison to the more than half a billion dollars Blackjewel owes for other debts, according to its bankruptcy filing, including significant environmental and employee obligations.
Surface mining, a type of mining that Blackjewel and other coal companies use, has degraded land and water in Appalachia, causing erosion and landslides, floods, and water contamination. Without reclamation, sites are more of an environmental and economic risk. The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977 set rules for restoring surface-mined land through a process called reclamation, which consists of rebuilding ridges destroyed by explosives, remediating soil, planting new trees and vegetation, and ensuring that land can be used for other purposes.
As the coal industry has declined over the last decade, companies have used loopholes in SMCRA to avoid reclamation obligations, and some state agencies have not adequately enforced the law. Alpha and other companies dumped unproductive mines and responsibilities on companies that bought them after bankruptcy, postponing cleanup for months, years, or even decades. Many of the mines at stake in Blackjewel’s bankruptcy produce little coal, are lying idle, or are in various stages of reclamation.
Advocates, industry experts, and former regulators say this cycle — mine, declare bankruptcy, and sell — threatens the system designed to ensure mines are reclaimed, and that central Appalachia could see a new round of mine abandonment that could cause more environmental, economic, and health problems.
“There are parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky — the state with the most abandoned mine lands in the country — that were mined 50, 100, 150 years ago, and still have not been reclaimed,” said Joe Pizarchik, director of the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) under former President Barack Obama. “Those areas have still not recovered. The coal’s gone, there’s no jobs, there’s nothing.”
Barren, gray ridges mark the only remains of many mountaintops along the Kentucky and Virginia state line near where miners are protesting. Revelation holds mining permits on much of this land, which sit in various states of mining and reclamation. They’re part of the roughly 2,278 square miles of surface-mined land in central Appalachia. According to a 2015 study, only about half have been reclaimed.
Forty-two years ago, SMCRA established a fund coal companies pay into to restore land mined before 1977 that degraded the environment or endangered the public. It also set rules for how companies restore land mined after 1977. Surface mines are shaped to the approximate contour of the mountain and revegetated with soil, grass, and often non-native shrubs like autumn olive.
Environmental groups say rules aren’t stringent enough. “Having some of the open areas grass-seeded and stable is better than nothing, but it’s not great from an economic perspective and an environmental perspective,” said Erin Savage, central Appalachian program manager for advocacy group Appalachian Voices.
Aside from being eyesores, sites that aren’t properly reclaimed can be dangerous for communities around them. In 2010, a former mine in eastern Kentucky being mined without a permit eroded during a flood event and destroyed homes. A community near a large surface mine in West Virginia has been largely abandoned by residents. A Kentucky mine owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice that was supposed to be reclaimed in 2015 has repeatedly led to flood damage. There’s also the risk of long-term degradation of water quality — which is common throughout Appalachia — from acid mine drainage and other toxic runoff that can contaminate waterways.
The federal government regulates mine reclamation in Tennessee, but Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia have state agencies. To ensure that states can cover cleanup costs if coal operators don’t, they’re required to set aside reclamation money in bonds through third-party companies, collateral, or by self-bonding, a process that allows them to promise regulators they’ll cover expenses without setting aside money upfront.
Each state’s system works differently: Virginia charges per-acre, plus a tax on every ton of coal that goes into a collective pool of money for the state to put toward reclamation; West Virginia requires coal companies pay between $1,000 and $5,000 per acre, plus a tax on coal production that goes into the shared pool. Kentucky overhauled its system after a 2011 federal study found that not even a third of bonds covered the cost of reclaiming land. But Kentucky regulators still tried to lower the amount coal companies must set aside for water treatment after mining.
State bonding policies have been weakened as some regulators try to accommodate the struggling coal industry. “It’s not unusual to have a state regulator who did not stay on top of things, and then try to get as much reclamation as possible or to keep the jobs going,” said former federal regulator Pizarchik. “They know they’ve got a major problem on their hands and try to get as much reclamation out of the company as they can before it finally collapse.”
Between 2012 and 2017, four of the U.S.’s largest coal companies — Alpha, Arch Coal, Patriot Coal, and Peabody Energy — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and left nearly $5.2 billion owed for miner benefits and requirements to restore mined land, according to a study in the Stanford Law Review. The companies used several techniques to get out of paying: they rejected health care and pension obligations, passed regulatory liabilities to successor companies, and when those companies liquidated, abandoned them altogether.
Jeff Hoops, who led Blackjewel, Revelation, and Lexington Coal, built his companies on mines passed through bankruptcies. Blackjewel’s holdings consist almost entirely of mines that have been through bankruptcy, and in 2017 Alpha paid him $316 million for Lexington Coal to take nearly 300 mines, many of which needed extensive reclamation. Hoops was pushed out as Blackjewel’s CEO shortly after it filed for bankruptcy, but he and companies his family owns are seeking payments of more than $22 million, according to one analysis.
Blackjewel’s lawyer told a judge in July that there may not be another round of buyers for some mines, particularly in central Appalachia. Three mines — two in Wyoming and one in West Virginia — were sold to Contura, an Alpha subsidiary, and other companies have placed bids. But some Appalachian mines backed up by $200 million or more in reclamation bonds failed to sell, according to one of the companies insuring Blackjewel’s bonds, and some have cleanup costs that are likely to far exceed that amount. The responsibility for reclamation falls to whoever buys them — and if they can’t be sold, it could fall to state agencies and taxpayers.
“This Revelation/Blackjewel filing is the beginning of phase 2 of the coal bankruptcy cycle, and it’s going to be devastating,” said Peter Morgan, a Sierra Club senior attorney.
An analysis of Blackjewel’s Appalachian mining permits found the company held 211 in Kentucky, 69 in Virginia, 12 in West Virginia, and two in Tennessee — more than 14,000 acres. Savage, who conducted the analysis, said that most likely can’t generate revenue.
“How is a company going to take these over and do any better job reclaiming them?” Savage said. “Who’s going to take over these permits, even if they were just handed to them? They’ve got all this reclamation liability. If Blackjewel couldn’t do it, why would a different company be able to do better?”
On the second day of the protest in Cumberland, State Representative Adam Bowling talked to miners between games of cornhole. He said he planned to file legislation to make sure that unpaid workers were compensated, and is concerned about the fate of Kentucky’s mines.
“You don’t want a pit sitting there after they’re done, after they get up and leave,” he said. “Nobody wants that. We don’t want that in our communities. We enjoy coal mining. We enjoy that it’s a wage that allows our families to eat, but nobody wants them to get up and leave out of town and leave the liabilities behind.”
Some regulators are trying to address the reclamation gap. Virginia offers compliance plans to address mine violations and overdue fines. Revelation was on a compliance plan when Blackjewel declared bankruptcy. Tarah Kesterson, a spokeswoman for Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, said that since August 1, the agency has moved to forfeit bonds on one Blackjewel and four Revelation mines. The agency is waiting for an update before taking any action.
The cleanup of abandoned mines around the U.S. from before 1977 will cost billions of dollars, but there’s no clear consensus of the actual amount. A lack of data on more recently mined land makes it harder to determine what the full costs will be. Williams-Derry said that post-1977 mine abandonment is not something “that coal country has adequately wrestled with.”
“Thinking about all this liability and environmental responsibility, we’ve just assumed there’d be some part of the industry left over that would pay for something,” Williams-Derry said. “We’re at a time right now when the whole industry is shrinking, and there may be assets that nobody wants, and there’s nobody anywhere left to pay for clean-up.”
Some advocacy groups want state regulators to take a much more aggressive role in enforcing reclamation, but the Republicans who tend to control political power in coal regions are often reluctant to do so. Some state lawmakers have tried to secure back pay for miners blocking the train in Cumberland, and to ensure companies set aside money for paychecks. But bills to retain miners’ benefits and use existing funding to reclaim abandoned mine lands with economic development plans in mind have been stalled in Congress for years. U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pennsylvania, said he plans to introduce a measure to eliminate self-bonding and to reform other bonding programs.
“The slew of recent bankruptcies in the coal industry has put current and former coal communities at risk,” Cartwright said in a statement to Southerly. “We need to make sure we have the resources needed to clean up and restore abandoned mines.”
As more powerful coal companies go bankrupt, the fate of thousands of acres of mines in central Appalachia — and the communities they surround — hangs in the balance.
“This is a slow-motion car wreck,” said Savage. “There’s just too much reclamation and not enough demand. Too much of the reclamation has been put off in hopes of some magical rebound that just isn’t going to happen.”
New Economic Data Show Appalachia’s Struggles Amid Coal’s Decline
By Becca Schimmel
June 26, 2019
An annual report from the Appalachian Regional Commission shows that while Appalachia is seeing some economic improvement, the heart of the region and its coal-producing communities are still struggling. Several counties in the Ohio Valley are moving in a negative direction in this year’s report.
The ARC report evaluates the Appalachian region using county-level data on unemployment, per capita market income, and poverty. Counties are rated on a scale with five tiers. At the low end are those “economically distressed,” or those ranking among the worst 10 percent of county economies in the country. At the high end is “attainment,” for those with thriving economies on par with the nation’s top performing places. In between are counties labeled “at risk,” “transitional” or “competitive.”
Ten counties in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia are moving in a negative direction. Those are: Rowan Co., Kentucky; Ashtabula, Athens, Coshocton, and Guernsey Counties, Ohio: and Nicholas, Pleasants, and Wirt Counties in West Virginia.
Just four counties in the Ohio Valley are moving in a positive direction: Cumberland and Garrard Counties, Kentucky; and Hardy and Summers Counties in West Virginia.
The ARC authors point out that many of the places moving in a negative direction or stuck in the lowest categories are those affected by the downturn in the coal industry.
“Parts of the Appalachian region face significant economic challenges compared to the rest of the country,” ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas said in a statement. “ARC is seeking to ensure awareness of these challenges, and to inform policymakers at all levels.”
Athens County, Ohio, is among those counties that had a negative change and is now in “distressed” status. Jack Frech is an advocate on poverty in the area who worked more than three decades in Athens County’s welfare office.
He said that wage stagnation, coupled with the “evisceration” of social safety nets, is creating a larger class of working poor. In a “gig” economy with job growth driven by the lower-paying service sector, the nation’s low unemployment rate can be deceptive.
“People will take any job they can get,” he said. “Which gives us the impression we are doing well, when in fact most of these new jobs do not provide a living wage. Many of them are not even lifting people above the poverty level.”
ARC spokesperson Wendy Wasserman said the data add context on how the region is doing, and help to determine where investment is needed.
“The reason we continue to do this is for our investments,” she said. “We do it to help us map out strategic investments in the region.”
Wasserman said the color-coded map showing different levels of economic status looks like a bullseye of distress over central Appalachia. But it’s slowly been shrinking over time.
The coming fiscal year will have 80 designated “distressed” counties in Appalachia, the lowest such number since 2008.
Mississippi’s children more likely to live in high poverty areas than any state in the country, report finds
By Anna Wolfe
June 17, 2019
Amy Berry, director of Little Saints Academy near downtown Jackson and a longtime early educator, could just as easily be considered a workforce specialist.
That’s true because of growing research about the massive brain development starting on Day One of a baby’s life and the correlation between quality early childhood care and a strong workforce generations later.
“Mississippi’s workforce of tomorrow is in daycare today,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in his 2019 State of the State address, noting the state’s latest emphasis on child care.
But Berry, who previously directed Jackson State University’s Mississippi Learning Institute, knows the limitations of her impact on a child living in poverty.
One of Berry’s students, a 4-year-old, has a chronic blood disease that strains his family’s sparse resources. He’s cared for by a single mom who works multiple jobs, mostly in fast food restaurants that provide neither a living wage or stable employment.
“The baby, he’s quiet,” Berry said. “He doesn’t make … eye contact all of the time. You just know that there’s some things going on there and you try to compensate with love and with, ‘I’ve got a book for you. You’re going to take this book home.’ You try things like that, but you know there are some situations there that you just can’t (solve) even though he’s with you.”
In the latest annual Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT report released Monday, Mississippi maintained its 48th ranking from last year for overall child well-being, with 27 percent of its children living in poverty in 2017. That’s a decline from 33 percent in 2010. Before 2018, Mississippi had ranked dead last in the report every year but one dating back to 1991.
“I feel like I sound like a broken record, but I also feel like we have to keep saying the same things,” said Heather Hanna, co-director of Mississippi KIDS COUNT. “We know that poverty puts children at risk of adverse childhood experiences because the families, they’re experiencing more stress, which makes them more vulnerable to developmental issues. We know that when children are born into poverty, they actually form less brain tissue due to family stress. So it’s not always about personal choices, it’s often about the environment that we’re born into. I think in this state, if we want better choices, we need to create better environments for our children to grow up in.”
Over one-third of children in Mississippi live in families in which no parent has full-time, year-round employment, which could be exacerbated by Mississippi’s high rate of single-parent families. Mississippi’s single-parent families have grown from 35 percent in 1990 to 46 percent in 2017, the highest rate of any state.
One of the best ways to ensure the success of her student, Berry said, is to help his mom find stable employment in a living wage job.
“If she had a job that paid more and that was more secure, that she wouldn’t have to feel as if, ‘Well, I’m forever looking for something else to get a few dollars more,’” Berry said.
Not enough job openings in Mississippi afford this opportunity. Mississippi Today analyzed the 36,716 job listings that contained salary data on the Mississippi Works search engine, which underpins the governor’s workforce agenda, in early June. Just one-third were in positions that pay an average salary over $14.51 an hour — the amount a person would have to make to afford a two bedroom apartment according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
While the state’s unemployment rate reached a historic low in 2018, there were 62,700 unemployed people looking for work in Mississippi in April.
Berry said she hasn’t seen the 4-year-old student in recent weeks. His mom receives a voucher through the federal child care program, the Child Care Development Fund, to pay for his enrollment in the academy. “There’s just some situations that she’s going through now, because even with the voucher, parents must pay a portion,” Berry said.
Since 2017, Mississippi has significantly reduced its waiting list for child care assistance, one of the strongest work supports for parents, after it had ballooned to over 20,000 children. By 2019, the state said it had eliminated the wait list altogether. Still, the program is only serving a fraction of those low-income parents who are eligible, according to a 2018 Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative report, which estimated there are 60,000 young, low-income children disconnected from any publicly available early childhood program.
Historically, “the state is totally underrated, underfunded. We don’t have the interest at heart of the people that really matter,” Barry said.
“Before this, a long time ago, I was a school teacher, so I taught language arts in Jackson Public Schools. So I’ve got lots of history. And for the most part, the people that really matter, those people don’t always have our children at heart. They say that they do but their actions don’t always demonstrate it,” Berry said.
In every year but two since 1997, the Mississippi Legislature has failed to fully fund the public school funding formula that determines how much money is needed to provide an adequate education, much of which is based on the socioeconomics of the students in each district. The state’s pre-K program is only big enough to serve five percent of the state’s 4-year-olds.
But attitudes are changing in state leadership with the acknowledgement of just how important those early years are. Mississippi is in the process of changing its quality rating system for child care centers, such as Berry’s academy, and those eventually designated a “comprehensive” center will be reimbursed through the child care voucher at almost double the standard rate, said Laurie Smith, executive director of the State Early Childhood Advisory Council.
Smith said if she walked into 10 child care centers today, she estimates eight would be performing moderately, one would be exceeding expectations and one would be failing standards. But 15 years ago, Smith said, nine would have been performing poorly.
“They’re not where we need them to be,” Smith said, referring to the centers. “How we get them there is not just a grant funded project that comes and goes … There’s never been a system where every child care center can get consistent help over time and that is what we’re trying to do right now.”
Mississippi received a $10.6 million federal grant in December to help implement the structural changes, which includes establishing Early Childhood Academies and sending coaches from community colleges to train child care instructors in educational methods. The state will be eligible for another $50 million grant this fall.
“I’ve realized that there are pockets of people with the same passion, with the same interests that I have and we’ve banned together,” Berry said.
By connecting early childhood education and the workforce — Smith is also director of the State Workforce Investment Board — Mississippi is attempting to address the family as a whole through connected services.
But according to experts, a work-oriented approach to helping families isn’t likely to significantly reduce child poverty. That would require robust cash supports, such as a government child allowance.
In February, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, released a three-year, $750,000 report requested by U.S. Congress in 2015 outlining ways to cut child poverty in half within 10 years.
In “The Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty,” researchers simulated a number of policy packages, but only the most aggressive, such as significant increases to the existing Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and housing voucher programs, met their goal of reducing poverty by 50 percent. Those proposals would cost at least $90 billion a year.
The most effective policies for tackling poverty are costly and do not encourage employment, the researchers found, though most governments, including in Mississippi, have maintained a work first attitude following welfare reform in the 1990s. The work-oriented proposed policies — including focusing child care vouchers to the lowest income families, raising the minimum wage and implementing workforce training programs — could cost between $9 billion and $44 billion a year, but would still require increases to the tax credit and only curb poverty by 20 to 35 percent.
The authors omitted from their research other popular anti-poverty policy proposals, such as pregnancy prevention and marriage counseling, due to lack of evidence that they work on any magnitude.
For example, mandatory work requirements, which Mississippi ties to many benefits, such as food assistance, “are at least as likely to increase as to decrease poverty.”
Smith rejected the idea that Mississippi’s approach to poverty is work-oriented, but said it is focused on training instead.
“This family-based approach we’re taking doesn’t say, ‘You have to work to do all this,’” Smith said. “It actually says, ‘We want to help you get into job training and we want to help you get your SNAP certificates and we want to help you get your Medicaid and everything you need to be successful while we’re helping your child at the same time.’”
Asked about the state’s appetite for increasing cash benefits, such as implementing its own state Earned Income Tax Credit as 29 state have done, Smith said it hasn’t arisen in policy discussions.
While the Roadmap authors note the large cost for the programs likely to work, the numbers are small compared to the estimated national annual price of child poverty — $800 billion to $1.1 trillion — as a result of increased crime, health issues and low economic mobility when those children enter adulthood.
“We can pay up front or we can pay down the road. It’s a choice,” Hanna said.