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Tennessee bill linking welfare to school progress advances

ERIK SCHELZIG • Apr 3, 2013 at 9:17 PM

NASHVILLE — A House committee on Wednesday approved a measure linking a family's welfare benefits to student performance a day after Gov. Bill Haslam expressed serious reservations about the measure.

The House Health Committee on voted 10-8 to advance the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah. The companion bill sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, was scheduled for a floor vote in the Senate on Thursday.

The measure would cut monthly benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program if a child fails to "maintain satisfactory academic progress."

Supporters noted that those cuts could be avoided if parents attend conferences with teachers, take parenting classes or enroll their children in tutoring programs or summer school.

Haslam said Tuesday that he doesn't see a connection between welfare benefits and students' grades. The Republican governor told reporters he would "very strongly" consider a veto if it passes both chambers.

"I don't think you have the direct connection between children's grades and the parents receiving benefits. There's too many things that could be a disconnect there," Haslam said.

Republican Rep. Barry Doss of Leoma rejected arguments that measure would inhibit families' ability to pay for basic items like food.

"I am more concerned about the child starving for a lifetime, than I am for a few days," Doss said. "Because if these children don't get an education, and the parents are not going to be responsible enough, then they're going to be burdened for a lifetime."

Some members of the panel also said it would be unfair to expect parents to be able to control what their children do at school, and how well they perform.

Democratic Rep. JoAnne Favors of Chattanooga cited her own experience as a divorced mother in receiving a call at work one day that one of her children was cutting school.

"I was dropping him off at school, and he was going out the back door," she said. "I was a nurse, and my children were in four different schools while I was nursing. I couldn't go to everything they attended."

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