'Good news' about poverty? More poor kids: Arundel school board's comments about Title I show narrow-minded focus on money.

July 13, 1998

SINCE WHEN is an increase in the number of poor children "good news"?

At last week's Anne Arundel County school board meeting, board members were thrilled to be getting an extra $887,934 in federal "Title I" funds . . . and clueless about why they are getting that additional money. "This is one of the few good news stories we have in these budget times," board member Vaughn Brown said.

Really? Title I money is allocated to schools according to how many children live in poverty -- defined as a family of four with less than $16,000 in annual income. The number of kids existing in such meager conditions in Anne Arundel has grown to more than 6,000 and continues to increase.

Yes, we should be pleased that the school system will be able to provide some additional resources for needy children. But board members' pleasure was not expressed in that sobering context; they just seemed glad to be getting another revenue source.

Obviously, there is a larger issue here, and it is not a happy one. Why is the number of poor children growing in Anne Arundel? We know poverty has a debilitating effect on academic achievement. You would expect school board members to express alarm at signs of increasing poverty and to want to know what is behind this trend.

But last week the board appeared not even to know that the number of poor children is rising. There was no discussion of where the kids are coming from and what that means for the school system. There was no sense of dismay.

This board is consumed with one thing these days: anger that County Executive John G. Gary increased this year's school budget by $14 million instead of $50 million -- the unrealistic sum the school system had requested. The board feels as if it is being asked to get by on beggars' rations (though with $14 million more to work with it is hard to believe that is really the case). Consequently, the sight of new money looks like "good news" -- even if it reflects a bad situation for thousands of children and, ultimately, for the school system itself.

Pub Date: 7/13/98

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