Welfare reform's social costs are much too highThe Sun's...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

August 21, 1999

Welfare reform's social costs are much too high

The Sun's editorial "Undermining progress of welfare reform" (Aug. 13) is correct that it is outrageous that Republicans want to fund their tax cuts for the wealthy with temporary savings from welfare reform grants to the states and other programs for the disadvantaged.

Welfare reform may be a success in that welfare rolls have been cut, but it has been anything but successful in steering people toward self-sufficiency.

As The Sun pointed out, those who leave welfare "are the new working poor, barely able to make ends meet."

Unless structural poverty and its causes are eliminated, no amount of tinkering with skills training, child care programs and transportation assistance will solve the problems of below-subsistence wages, lack of health insurance, substandard or non-existent housing and malnutrition.

If Congress can even consider cutting the taxes of CEOs who make 150 times what an average worker takes home, or spending more billions on "Star Wars" or other military boondoggles, simple fairness demands that those who are willing to work receive sufficient compensation to support themselves and their families -- through wages or an adequate earned income tax credit.

Lee Lears

Annapolis

The Sun's article on Allegany County's 91 percent reduction in its welfare rolls over the past four years reports "dilemmas" and "new hardships" ("Allegany Co. confronts work, welfare delemmas," Aug. 15). This markedly understates the social costs of welfare reform and the damage it is doing to people.

The article notes the county's more than four-fold increase in juvenile justice complaints in the last six years, a five fold increase in domestic violence complaints and large increases in child abuse reports and use of a local food pantry.

A review of all the changes induced by "welfare reform" would conclude that, as it shifts welfare clients to expensive criminal justice and medical agencies, no money is being saved.

And, as supports such as Medicaid that are designed to ease people's transition from welfare to work expire, even more people will be in distress.

While those who receive public funds need to be accountable, this "reform" is a travesty. Lives are being destroyed.

Harris Chaiklin

Columbia

The writer is professor emeritus at the University of Maryland's School of Social Work.

Teen-agers should be free to drop out of high school

Vice president Al Gore promises that, if elected president, he will make it illegal to drop out of high school before age 18 (currently a student can drop out at 16). This is not a good idea at all.

Generally, two types of teen-agers drop out of school. The first are students unlikely to amount to much anyway. Why punish those who want to learn with the presence of unwilling students?

If you think public schools are dysfunctional now, they would become even worse under the law Mr. Gore proposes.

The other type of student apt to drop out is the bright, independent, entrepreneurial type. Such individuals often feel stifled by the one-size-fits-all, unchallenging intellectual atmosphere of many public schools.

They may drop out of high school, but then go on to do bigger and better things in the business world or the military. Gore's proposal could inhibit, and maybe even crush, the spirit of some such talented young renegades.

Schools belong to those who want to learn. Attempting to force a mind to think is futile and naive.

What American students need is more freedom of choice and privatization -- not more coercion and collectivism.

Michael J. Hurd

Baltimore

Private schooling options save money, serve kids best

Deborah Meier is correct that smaller, more personal schools, tailored curricula, concerned adults and differing philosophies produce better results ("Smaller, better schools," Opinion Commentary, Aug. 16). However, Ms. Meier fails to consider better, cheaper alternatives outside the public school hierarchy.

She suggests that districts build new, small schools and empower these schools to make philosophical, curricula and supply decisions. While this would probably yield good results after millions of dollars are spent, better solutions already exist.

Often the optimal solution is home-schooling. My children enjoy a small, safe, personal school with two students and leaders who have complete control over curriculum and supply decisions.

Each home-schooling family can create an optimal learning environment for each child -- and a philosophy as unique as each family. Home-schooling can provide an excellent education for a fraction of the average yearly expenditure per public school child.

Where home-schooling won't work, many small, private schools with rich, diverse curricula and philosophies can provide the benefits Ms. Meier extols.

Jim Henderson

Odenton

Fix public schools and keep church, state separate

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