Poverty handicap for children

By Trigie Ealey
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 30, 1996

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Regent President John Munger


The Arizona Board of Regents heard a pessimistic report on the state's educational system Friday, concluding two days of meetings at the UA.

The report stated that poverty was a primary factor in predicting whether a child would graduate from college.

The report was written and presented by Harold Hodgkinson, director of the Center for Demographic Policy at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Educational Leadership.

"Poverty is the single most handicap for kids," Hodgkinson said. "Wealth is what predicts math scores."

University of Arizona President Manuel Pacheco said the information presented would probably lead to an expansion of programs targeting students in poverty. He said the presentation did not mean that ethnicity should not be a factor in other programs.

"It is pretty clear that ethnicity needs to be considered," he said.

Pacheco said the UA has nearly 400 programs that do various forms of outreach to the community and area schools. He said those programs are not all related to the issues presented, but do include events such as lab experiences to motivate local children to stay in school.

Hodgkinson said the lack of bilingual teachers is also a problem in Arizona. Eighty percent of the kids in bilingual classes are doing better than those without bilingual education, he said.

"It is amazing the number of people who think these programs are going to keep kids speaking Spanish forever," Hodgkinson said. "It never does that. After three years in a bilingual program, most kids are speaking English and Spanish, but they are also learning math."

Hodgkinson said part of the problem rests in the state's reliance on low paying tourism jobs rather than other industries for its economy.

Regent President John Munger agreed, but singled out Tucson.

"It is nobody's fault, but the fault of this valley (Tucson and Pima County)," Munger said. "This valley is not user friendly to business."

Munger said the Tucson area loses business due to opposition to growth, but he said controlled growth can improve the Tucson economy. He said people, including his own four grown children, have to leave Arizona to find high-tech jobs.

Munger said changing the programs would get aid to those who need it most.

"We have to get beyond setting up programs, in my opinion, based upon race, which is not a critical factor," Munger said. "And start setting up programs based on poverty and socio-economic need, which is a factor."

Hodgkinson said that of every 100 3- and 4-year-olds in Arizona, 51 will graduate high school, 36 will go on to higher education, five will graduate from college and one will earn a Ph.D.

He suggested ways to improve the number of graduates by working with alternative programs such as the University of Phoenix, which helps people complete their degrees. He said Arizona was second in the nation with the number of people with 20 units and no degree.

Regent Eddie Basha said it was clear that the board needs to work with the community colleges and K-12 schools to improve education.

Arizona State University Professor Laura Rendon said race should not be ignored as a factor in favor of a poverty-based program.

"What I am most concerned about is the idea that economic programs will disregard gender, race and ethnicity," she said. "Being proficient in more than one language should be a signal of intelligence."

Rendon, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies, said it should not be ignored that the curriculum is geared toward white students.

Munger said after the meeting that while he does not favor scrapping programs, he does support basing aid on poverty levels rather than race.

"I support keeping the amount of funding we have now and basing it on poverty," Munger said.

Among some of the figures presented in the report:

  • Only nine states have a higher teen pregnancy rate than Arizona.

  • In 1990, Hispanic comprised 42.9 percent of the poor children in Arizona while representing 25 percent of the population enrolled in school.

  • Absenteeism is twice the national rate in Arizona.

  • Arizona has the second highest high school dropout rate in the country at 12 percent.

  • Arizona spends twice as much on wealthy school districts as on poor districts.

    The Arizona Board of Regents also:

  • Approved the establishment of the Center for Low Powered Electronics at the UA and ASU. The center will be located in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering and Mines at the UA and the College of Engineering and Applied Science at ASU. The center will study portable electronics, computing and communication devices.

  • Postponed addressing changes to non-resident tuition waivers, due to the absence of Regent Kurt Davis, who proposed the changes.