Senate Republicans recently unveiled an 11-point plan to combat inter-generational poverty in Delaware and they deserve a lot of credit for stepping forward on the issue. Not all the ideas will become law, but some will, and all deserve an honest debate. The objective is to make Delaware the lowest-poverty state in the nation by 2024.
The Committee of 100 agrees that the focus should shift from simply easing the hardship of poverty to breaking the cycle of poverty entirely. And what is the single most effective tool in doing that? Education.
There will be a vote this spring in the General Assembly on an issue that we believe should be considered part of the state’s anti-poverty agenda. That issue is the redistricting plan of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) and approval of the funding needed to implement all the recommendations of the Commission’s report.
In 2024, today’s six-year-old first graders in Wilmington will be 14 and about to enter high school in the fall. Which road will they be on? On a track to finish school with career or college-ready skills prepared to contribute to society, or on a track to a life of dependency in the social service system or the criminal justice system? We know the high costs of those systems, not to mention the human costs of broken families and lost opportunity, or the societal costs of crime and violence. The WEIC report suggests that we try something different. Let’s make sure we give today’s generation the tools to be independent.
We now know that kids who live in poverty face higher hurdles to learning than others. They may come to school hungry, may have untreated medical issues, may have less stable family situations — moving frequently and getting less consistent mentoring at home, if any. These difficulties grow with each successive generation that lives in poverty.
This means that for those kids, simple access to school, without additional support services, is not equal access to educational opportunity. They are behind at the start and never catch up. We often hear it said that America does not guarantee equal outcomes, but does promise equal opportunity. It is time we live up to that promise in education.
Wilmington is certainly not the only place in Delaware with high concentrations of poverty. We believe added resources for schools with kids living in poverty should be available statewide. But if we can’t accomplish that larger goal right away, we still should start someplace, and Wilmington is most in need.
Poverty and its offspring — high unemployment, crime and violence — are threats to the well-being of our state’s economic capital. Giving Wilmington’s school kids an equal shot at a good education will be one of the most important steps we take in breaking the cycle of poverty, and in ensuring the economic well-being of Delaware in the future.
Don’t say we can’t afford it. We can’t afford not to.
Paul H. Morrill Jr. is executive director of The Committee of 100, a nonprofit association of Delaware business leaders that promotes responsible economic development and addresses issues that affect Delaware’s economic health.