August 2, 2021

Andre Perry: The child tax credit, not charter schools, was the reform we needed to help kids succeed

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Andre Perry is a David M. Rubinstein Fellow at the Brookings Institute. He contributes regularly to the Hechinger Report. In this recent piece, he explains why the new child tax credit is a better aid for fighting poverty than charter schools.

When I was a charter school leader, I constantly heard reformers justify district takeovers, teacher firings, ineffective voucher programs and abusive “no excuse” discipline policies by saying, “It’s all about the kids.” They insisted that if we could get rid of the adult problems — replacing teachers, parents and administrators — students could overcome poverty.

Many reformers viewed poverty as an inadequate excuse for students’ academic failings, citing flimsy research that claimed 90 percent of low-income students of color can and do meet the highest academic standards — the so called 90/90/90 schools. The problem with the concept was the originator used a low bar to make sure 90 percent of students met the standard, equating “basic” or barely minimal competency with high achievement. And it shrugged off the mounds of research that show a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and academic achievement.

After more than a quarter century, reformers’ actions have laid bare the fact that education reform was more about advancing a political agenda than helping kids. Under the guise of helping children, many reformers used the mantra of innovation to cover a boilerplate conservative agenda that aimed to privatize schools, upend teachers’ unions and disempower school districts.

These “innovative” ideas made it more obvious that charter schools and vouchers are no match for poverty when it comes to academic outcomes. It also became clearer that reforms that reduce the number of Black workers, remove political representation and ignore poverty make matters worse for communities.

But there’s been a reckoning around the racism that denies the effects of poverty; even mainstream politicians have recognized that the best way to cure many of society’s ills is to reduce the level of poverty.

Last week President Joe Biden announced that Senate Democrats had reached a $3.5 trillion budget resolution to permanently expand the child tax credit, a benefit granted to all but the most affluent American taxpayers for each qualifying dependent child. In March, in the face of unanimous Republican opposition, Democrats used the budget reconciliation process to push through legislation to temporarily expand the child tax credit as part of the Biden’s administration’s Covid relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act.


Let’s put the nail in the coffin of the argument that “students of color are trapped in failing schools” rhetoric. Poverty and poor thinking are the traps students need to be released from.

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