Would paying the poor for doing well in school solve some of the poverty crisis?

I think I saw that New York was doing something like this with attendance, but I have no cite. Anyways, my idea is something along the lines of paying families or children for good attendance and good grades in school. I think we can all agree that the easiest way to get out of poverty is via education. Maybe the kids could be rewarded with gift cards to a toy store or the mall. Or maybe it could be cash for the parents to use in the best interests of the family. This may cause the parents to be proactive in their children’s education. All of this is up for debate.

  1. Do you think something like this would work and/or would it be a good use of taxpayers funds? How poor would you have to be?

  2. If you said yes, how should said money be distributed? To the kids in the form of gift cards or cash for the parents to ostensibly spend in the best interests of the children?

  3. What kind of attendance/grades would merit reward?

I know that almost free public education should be more than enough of an award considering the millions or billions who are without access. However, the fact remains that a considerable amount of the population, primarily the poor, simply don’t value education. Anything to get them involved would be positive, IMO.

Fire away!

Oh, and I am speaking from an American perspective but everyone please chime in too! :slight_smile:


How do you define “doing well in school”? How well? According to what metrics?

What about special needs students?


I’m not sure. I’d let the Legislature figure that out.

The money should be given as maturing bonds that can only be redeemed to cover the cost of college tuition and room & board. Books would not be included.

I don’t know.

I would imagine at least 3.0 and 90% attendance.


I think American feelings toward the poor have switched from mild annoyance to outright hostile, and, in some cases, violent. I think we need to have a more humanitarian approach to dealing with poverty.

  • Honesty

We do this in Dallas: there is an incentive program for kids to pass AP exams in math, science, and English, as well as for teachers whose students pass math, science, and English AP exams. It’s funded through a series of grants. It’s been very successful. $100/Exam is really a token considering all the work they put into it, but it makes the point that passing the exam is worthwhile.

I don’t agree with this part. Not everyone needs to go to college, for one, and the incentive shouldn’t be limited to those who do. There are plenty of benefits to be gained from getting a good high school education. In addition, high school kids are pretty bad at delayed gratification. I was a smart kid from a middle class family, but I still had trouble wrapping my head around the true costs of college. Tens of thousands of dollars a year just didn’t mean anything to me on a gut level, since I’d never had that much money. I think that $50 cash in hand is going to be a much stronger motivator than $1000 in bonds to be used in some possible future.

I’m a bit skeptical about monetarily rewarding people for doing what they should be doing anyway. I’d be looking instead to tear down disincentives that prevent them from doing these things.

Once you start paying poor people to start doing what’s good for them, where does it stop? Statistically, the best route to success for poor people is to get married and stay married, even more than education. Are you going to start bribing people to get married? How about payments for not having children out of wedlock? Then what comes next, subsidies for not eating french fries?

Look at cigarette smoking, its cost and effect of the poor. 32. 3% of people living below the poverty level smoke, compared to 23.5% of those above it. Cite

There is an incredible incentive to quit smoking, at an average price of $4.50 per pack (including taxes) the cost of smoking is thousands of dollars per year, yet there you have it, almost a third of poor people smoke. It would be nice if social engineering worked as intended, as long as I get to choose the engineering, but it rarely does.

Yes, an incentive—this or some other—would work to a degree. But it strikes me as grossly unfair to add a reward for doing well for one group and leave another group out. What’s next, do we give people incentives for not committing crimes? Not stealing? Not speeding? Not murdering people? Or to put a positivist spin on it, for following the law?

That said, kids in areas that suffer recurring poverty generation after generation do need some help. That help needs to change the attitudes concerning education in the societies in which they live. I’d prefer holding teachers to higher standards and instituting a bonus system a la corporate America. I also advocate Charter Schools, as a way to allow a school to be run in the best interest of the students, as opposed to the teachers’ unions.

An excellent book that looks at the groups you are referring to is No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, by Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom. (Yes, unfortunately there is a strong correlation between economic strata and color, and academic performance.)

Another answer: clone Bill Cosby and send him to talk to every family in an area that suffers multi-generational poverty.

I was just hearing about this, a variation of which is being used in some internationally funded programmes in Jamaica, where I am at the moment - young people in slum areas are given financial incentives for going to school or attending vocational training; likewise to poor families for sending their kids to school and attending health clinics.

I agree with some of the reservations expressed above, but the experience here is that it is a good way of tackling a serious problem of disaffected youth and violence. This has to be combined with job opportunities otherwise the problem is just delayed.

The Social Safety Net Project

Yes pay them. It works when parents offer financial incentives for good grades. Should work equally well if the govt does it.

I saw “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith recently. There was a scene at a Church, where they had to turn away some of the homeless because there was no room.

How come shelters don’t offer guaranteed spots to people that fit certain criteria? (i.e. those looking for work, trying to educate themselves or better themselves get automatic spots) Maybe give an intelligence exam… those that pass get a spot?

I think the money would be much better put towards things like more guidence councilers, more honors and AP classes, and extra-cirricular activities.

The demand would still outstrip the supply. There would be nothing that would stop people who thought they might need a spot for the night from picking up an application for a job they never intended to get, filling out an application for a community college they never intended to enroll in, or simply answering “Sure” when they were asked the entrance questions.

A good friend of mine works as a high school math teacher is a poor inner-city neighborhood. There are lots of factors which prevent some children from succeeding in his classes – many, if not most of which involve the problem of having poor parents. One of the big ones is that a lot of these kids have jobs to help support their parents. If you were a kid choosing between doing your math homework and helping Mom afford clothes, you might choose the latter. So the good grades incentive might at least help tip the scales on that particular dilemma.

Lack of education and the cycle of poverty hurt everyone, so we would be helping everyone by doing this. Welfare and the incentives of parents and government aid is a different debate; there is at least some argument that many parents are responsible for their situation. But we can’t say the same of their children. So I have no qualms about helping these children. I don’t think it’s unfair to other students not living in poverty; no more than giving aid to anyone else disabled by circumstance is unfair.

There is no magic bullet for educational problems. Different schools are failing for different reasons. But I think it’s worth a shot in the schools that have the same problem as my friend’s. What’s the worst that can happen? We set up an easily evaluated metric at the beginning: an increase in grades over a certain period for the average student in the program (or something similar). If it doesn’t work, we cut it off.

What if we went back to the time when a person could graduate high school and move into a low-skilled job which pays a living wage and provides health insurance etc? Before the trend toward massive downsizing/outsourcing, this used to be an option for non-intellectually gifted folks who nonetheless hoped to have a home, family, and everything else that it seems only the rich “deserve” nowadays.

Paying “the poor” to get an education seems a paltry recompense for a system of work and wages which no longer serves those with only a high school diploma.

I agree with putting more money towards guidance counselors and extracurricular activities. I can’t tell you how many people I went to high school with that would be infinitely more screwed up if it wasn’t for football, soccer, baseball, etc. reigning them in with coaches who held them accountable for what they did inside and outside of the classroom. They certainly never would have graduated from high school.

However, honors and AP classes are great for those who are excelling in classes, but on the subject of helping the poverty stricken - those with being broke so ingrained in their culture they see no other way of life, how would AP and honor classes help them when they don’t care about the regular classes? Or are you just referring to helping school systems overall without particularly addressing the needs of the poor?

I don’t know if you know but many people who smoke tobacco dependence are addicted to the product. Abrupt cessation of smoking causes dysphoria that is rapidly relieved after re-administration of the drug. Many adults living in poverty don’t have access to health care and can’t go walk into their neighborhood pharmacy demanding a bottle of Zyban.

  • Honesty

Are you kidding me?

I’m sorry, this isn’t the 1930’s where you can quit high school and start working in a factory. Getting a well-playing job without a college education, much less a high school education, is very difficult. This isn’t the Germany where the education system bifurcates into vocational and academic training.

  • Honesty

Simply put, there are just as many brilliant and hard working students in poor schools as rich ones. These kids are being screwed. They cannot get into good colleges. They do not got the guidence they need to even understand what to do to get into any college. Some of them get tracked right into remedial classes for no reason and nobody is there who understands the system enough to fix that. Sure, it’d be nice to help those who do not suceed at school, but we can’t even properly serve the ones who are succeeding!

Honors/AP classes help smart kids from poor high schools stay competitive when applying to colleges. My high school offered exactly two honors/AP classes. Most high schools I know offer at least five or six. In my school’s entire history since it was built thirty years ago, exactly one person has gotten into an “exeptional” school- Stanford, and affirmative action was involved. At my school. no matter how hard you work or how big of a genius you are (remember, in those thirty years there were thirty valedictorians) you will be crippled. You cannot compete against kids from other high schools with a full array of classes. If you’re life dream is to go to Harvard, sorry, but it’s just not possible no matter what you do. Knowing that kind of zaps your soul, you know?

Furthermore, because there were only spots for thirty five or so students to be in honors classes, many very smart and hard working students were denied spots. And inevitably it was smart immigrant children who’s parents did not fully understand the system that got left out. Because a lot of college prep (including walking kids through the application process, which can be very confusing especially if your parents arn’t familiar with it or arn’t in touch with American culture and instititutions) stuff only happens in honors classes, these kids are doubly screwed.

Kids recognize when they are getting a second rate education and act accordingly. If we have high expectations of them AND they have a chance of actually gaining something from their hard work, they will succeed. If you know you actually just have no chance of going anywhere better than state college no matter what you do, and you are much less likely to invest in your education.

Simply put, we should expect no less of our poor students than our rich one. They have equal the capacity for intellegence and hard work. But what they get is “high school lite”, for a large part because the “extras” just arn’t there. Thousands, if not millions of smart kids have slipped right through the cracks that would have gone to to an Ivy League if they had been in any other school. Let’s try to get a handle on that before we start working on the bigger issues. Something tells me that if we do, a lot of the other problems will start solving themselves,

I have heard this as well, but I also think that many people’s priorities are pretty starnge-in a ghetto school i taught at, kids had gold chains and $250.00/pair Nike sneakers. I just didn’t get those priorities. :confused: