Friday, September 7, 2012

Texas Lost: Homeless Children and the Education they won't Receive

If you haven't had a chance to read the Texas Republicans' stance on minimum wage, I don't blame you. It's written into their party platform, which is a frightening piece of writing containing stances that were current about a century ago. Fortunately, their position on it is brief and easily repeatable here:

"Minimum Wage – We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed."

What's truly unfortunate about Texas Republicans is that they aren't the only group of Republicans trying to swim away from providing better wages to the least fortunate. While the Democratic Party is busy trying to help those in need with better wages, Republicans are literally driving away from any constituents bothering to ask about higher payments.

However, while debates about minimum wage and the economy seem to be little more than political games for Republicans to pander to their constituents over, there are some very stark realities for those living in Texas who are barely getting by. From Galveston today:

"Lailani is one of about 650 homeless students beginning their second week of classes in the Galveston school district. Almost 10 percent of the district's students have been identified as homeless.

While Galveston's situation is unusual because of the lingering effects of Hurricane Ike, the number of homeless students is increasing nationally and in Texas even as resources to help those students dwindle.


Over the past four years the national number increased by 57 percent, to about 2 million, and by 151 percent in Texas, to about 85,000, said Ralph da Costa Nunez, president of the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness in New York."

Previously discussed has been the growing situation in Texas in which education funds have been slashed at both the K-12 and collegiate level, as well as the cuts to healthcare and services for the poorest. This has combined with a growing number of homeless. In Galveston, that number reaches nearly ten percent, and leads to a situation in which individuals are nomadic, without steady social support or opportunities for education.

Lack of housing that stems from underpayment combines with a lack of social services, forcing families into a nomadic lifestyle. Children are forced to move schools multiple times, providing little consistency. Meanwhile, the schools they do attend are likely to have become victim of Texas' cruel budget cuts, providing substandard education services to those already on the margins of society.

Senator Jane Nelson wrote recently that 115,000 Texas receive aid as part of TANF, welfare to the neediest few. That's less than 1% of the population, in a state with some of the harshest requirements to get on welfare. For many in this state, that leaves them in limbo, unable to receive assistance, underpaid, and forced to stay on the move.

Texas is creating an entire generation of underserviced, undereducated citizens. This wouldn't be new for Texas, which has one of the worst graduation rates in the entire country, and also has a higher rate of drop outs than the national average.

This leads to some simple questions Texas politicians have to answer. What are the effects of having ten percent of our population earning minimum wage, and another large percentage earning less than their peers, nationally? Because the effects are systemic. Lower paying jobs means less revenue gathered by the state, leading to less social services. This in turn creates situations like poor Lailani's, in which she must stay nomadic, on the go without hope of any proper education. This in turn will create a new generation of low wage, undereducated earners that will reduce Texas' prospects in the coming era.

It's strange that, nationally, Republicans are hoping to emulate the Texas model by slashing public services while cutting taxes to big business. Rick Perry and the Republican party have already done that, and the result, which we're seeing develop before our very eyes, is a lost generation of Texans. In ten years, when Texas is floundering in a sea of of welfare applicants, it will only have itself to look at. Welfare isn't something that people seek out because it's their highest aspiration, but is instead something created by bad policies and mismanagement of resources. Texas has done that in spades. Will national Republicans keep trying to do the same?

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