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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Give every child a chance

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Potential is equally distributed across lines of race and class, but opportunity is not. Today in Indiana and Indianapolis, the circumstances of children’s births predict the opportunities they have in life. Children growing up in marginalized and disenfranchised communities lack access to a broad spectrum of resources and opportunities and often attend schools that are not equipped to meet their unmet needs. This disproportionately impacts children of color, who are more than two times as likely to be born into poverty, who bear an additional burden of low expectations and other biases stemming from institutional and systemic racism, and who now constitute the majority of public school students in Indianapolis. Our public education system was not designed to give students agency to overcome the barriers they face to lead and shape the dynamic, global community into which they will graduate.

The transformation of our systems of education in Indy is so important. We do well to set our sights as a community on a shared, collective effort to dramatically improve education outcomes and student learning proficiency, particularly for students of color and those from low-income backgrounds. Along the way, we should learn about doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t. As part of this initiative, Teach For America is redoubling our efforts to find, develop and support equity-oriented leaders so they can support the transformation of education and expand opportunities with children, starting in the classroom.

As we do so, we as a community also must acknowledge that out-of-school factors very much influence education outcomes. Poverty matters. Racism matters. This is not to say poverty or racism should be used as excuses for dismal education outcomes; to do so would be to suggest that all children are not capable of excelling on an absolute scale, which is false. On the contrary, we should maintain high expectations for all of us — education leaders and their teams, students and families, and the community at large — as we simultaneously act to eradicate poverty and racism. This is what love and justice require. And we should openly consider every opportunity to alleviate the effects of poverty and racism, especially those impacting our children, for doing so will not only support children and families out of school but in school as well.

This is why a recently expanded federal policy called the child tax credit is so important. As part of the American Rescue Plan, the child tax credit (CTC) expansion is a monumental step in our nation’s efforts to combat child poverty with the potential to cut American childhood poverty in half. The monthly benefit is designed to help families manage unpredictable incomes and unpredictable expenses, like a child’s illness or a car repair. The tax credit, which has bipartisan support, works by directing up to $300 a month to families for each child under age 6 and $250 a month for children ages 6-17. What’s more, growing bodies of research show this policy has the potential to significantly improve education outcomes. Tax credit policies have been shown to increase student test scores and have long-term effects such as high school graduation, college enrollment and employment. These are child outcomes we all desire.

As with all things, the ultimate success of the CTC in reducing childhood poverty rests with effective implementation. Many families began receiving monthly checks or direct deposits automatically in July, but there are still plenty of families who haven’t. The IRS conservatively estimates that families with 4 million eligible American children are not receiving the credit today because they do not have their information on file. Up to 3,800 children of families in Center Township alone are currently not accessing these resources. These are likely among our community’s most vulnerable children who could benefit most from this policy: homeless youth, foster children and children in families with limited annual income. We need to act now and close the gap before the Nov. 15 filing deadline, and a growing chorus of people and organizations — schools, community-based organizations, nonprofits, governmental entities — are doing just this. By encouraging families in our networks to visit, we can guide them to access these empowering benefits to support their children to be well and do well in school. If you or anyone in your networks have an interest in learning more, please reach out to me at amar.patel@teachforamerica.org.

On Nov. 16, I hope we can all say that through this effort, as a community, we stepped up to ensure our most vulnerable families got the opportunity they needed to raise their children and support them to do well in school. A more vibrant and just community will be the result.

Amar Patel serves as executive director at Teach For America Indianapolis, an education nonprofit organization that recruits, supports and develops diverse, equity-minded leaders that drive change in our education system, starting in the classroom. Teach For America is working toward increasing student achievement in Indianapolis while advocating for policies and practices that support family and student success.

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