‘Chop-O-Matic politics’ seek to divide U.S.

Looking through statistics is a little like mining: Sometimes you find something different than what you were looking for originally.

In this case, I was looking through the TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) scores that are used by the state to assess reading levels among elementary students. I give these about the same credence I would the veracity of the voter rolls of Cook County, Ill., but I assumed they could shed a little light on student achievement.

Instead, I noticed an interesting notation next to the percent of students reading at an acceptable level. It was the term “poverty rate,” given as a percentage.

When I started checking various schools here in Mesa County, I was surprised to see results that didn’t jibe with my observations. For instance, Shelledy Elementary in Fruita was showing a poverty rate among students of almost 40 percent. Four in ten households in the Fruita area, living in poverty?

But that was nothing. When I checked the rate at Nisley Elementary, it showed a poverty rate of 79.5 percent. Eight of ten households in the area around that school living in poverty seemed far from right.

I wondered how they determined this definition of poverty and found this slightly defensive notation: “Poverty rate refers to the number of students in a school or district who are eligible for federal meal assistance. It is a widely used indicator of student poverty.”

So it seems that if a child’s family qualifies for a subsidized school lunch based on the family income, the child and the family are living in poverty.

This is an important number to school districts, since it allows them to receive payment from the government for the child’s lunch or a portion of the meal’s cost. But that’s not all.

School finance funding is conducted with a formula that involves coming up with a per-pupil revenue amount and, according to my friends at the Education Policy Center of the Independence Institute, this figure can be affected upward by the number of students who are considered to be “at risk.” The number at risk is partially computed by how many students qualify for reduced lunches.

Additionally, federal Title I funding, which is given to high poverty schools, also uses this number as a method to allocate funding.

So what are the standards to determine poverty in a student’s family?  Generally, to qualify for a reduced-price meal for a child in a family of four, the federal government appears to put the number at less than about $41,000 per year.

While that’s not a high wage, I expect there are a number of people on the Western Slope who would not feel particularly poverty-stricken in that circumstance. But you see, that doesn’t matter because it’s not really about families. It’s about breaking populations into victim groups for political and funding reasons.

There is political benefit, for some, in breaking communities along socioeconomic and class lines to use government resources to build a voting population. By rupturing Americans into disparate groups of class, race or income, it allows political operatives to assemble constituencies suddenly dependent upon the classification and the group that created it.

It permits the maker to split once-homogenous communities into antagonistic factions by purchasing loyalty from one at the expense of another.

Institutions then find ways to use the classifications for economic benefit, since, by having a definition of victimized or at-risk groups as broad as possible, it allows the institution to access resources that have been allocated for populations that are constantly growing as definitions broaden.

Other than the body politic, the real victims of these programs are the deserving poor. The numbers of the truly poor and their benefits continue to be diluted by constantly expanding definitions that drag more families into classes to receive benefits from the government, no matter how small, to create a voting coalition.

Such are the results of Chop-O-Matic politics, where the aim is to slice Americans into more and more groups until all shared identity and sense of America is lost and, where once there was a nation, there remains only a government.

Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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