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Indianapolis Star, January 24, 2008: Giving kids the basics leads to school success

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John Brandon

It is a widely accepted fact that doing well in school is one of the keys to success and happiness in life. So what factors influence how well a young person performs on the academic stage? What ingredients must be in place to assure their success?

Most experts would say that a young person will do well in school if he or she: eats well; has good physical and emotional health; gets adequate rest; is prepared for learning; and receives consistent parental support and encouragement.

So if we know what it takes for youth to be successful in school and since we clearly expect that every young person perform academically, why aren’t we doing everything possible to make sure they don’t fail?

Consider the following:

• According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food security study, some 12.6 million households, more than 35.5 million people, lacked access to adequate food sometime during the past year. Some 430,000 children were found to have very low food security, meaning they had to skip meals or change their eating patterns due to lack of resources. Young developing minds cannot function well if not given the fuel needed.

• Census data show that the number of uninsured children rose to 8.7 million in 2006 (11.7 percent of all U.S. children). There were about 1 million more uninsured children in 2006 than in 2004. When folks lack insurance, they often do not seek medical care because they cannot pay for it so illnesses go untreated and preventive care doesn’t occur.

• The U.S. Department of Education reports more than 600,000 public school children were homeless in the 2003-2004 school year. Additionally, in 2005 some 8.3 million poor households paid more than 50 percent of their income for housing; the federal government defines housing as affordable if it costs no more than 30 percent of family income. It’s tough to get a good night’s sleep if you have no place to lay your head.

• Quality child care and early education programs can improve children’s learning potential but many low-income infants, toddlers and preschoolers do not have access to these programs because of funding limitations. In 2008, 350,000 fewer children will receive federal child care assistance than in 2002 and Head Start funding for 2008 will fall 11 percent below the 2002 level, adjusted for inflation.

Roughly one in eight — 36.5 million Americans — live in poverty. Despite relatively strong economic growth since 2001, poverty remains stubbornly high. One of the largest growing segments of the population is the “working poor,” whose wages leave them below the poverty line. More than 80 percent of working poor families contain children. Parents who are among the working poor often work multiple low wage jobs, leaving them less time to meet parental obligations.

We are working diligently to reform our educational system so that it meets the changing demands and skills of an increasingly global economy. Teachers and administrators are under increasing scrutiny to make sure that no child is left behind academically. But all the innovative programs in the world will not increase the success rate of children if we do not first meet their basic needs.

Food, shelter, medical care and an adequately paying job are critically important ingredients for family success; it is within solid, stable families that the foundation for academic success is laid down and sustained. Wouldn’t it make perfect sense to make sure that “No Family is Left Behind”? Reducing the number of young people living in poverty is one of the best long-term investments we can make toward raising the academic achievement levels.

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