The Vicious Cycle: Children who live in poverty abundant here

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 10, 2003

BOLIGEE &045; As the children depart their classrooms, they line up against the school’s corridor, anxiously pushing to get out of the doors to get onto their school buses.

This is a daily ritual for many of the children in rural Greene County school system. There are no parents lined in cars to pick up their children. Rather, every single child boards a bus.

Teachers &045;&045; keeping guard over the students &045;&045; gather in a football huddle, anxiously settling in for a day’s end.

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The faces of the many children show no signs of distress. They don’t look underprivileged. They don’t look like some of the poorest in the state. They are similar to those in a playground, or a candy store-perpetual bliss.

A report earlier this week from the U.S. Census Bureau indicated the Greene County School System ranks sixth in the state for having the most students that live below the poverty level.

In fact, this area of the state has an extraordinarily high number of children who live in poverty. Perry County ranks first with 35.1 percent of all students living below the poverty level. Wilcox County ranks second at 34.7 percent. Sumter ranks fourth in the poverty survey.

As state budget cuts project decreased funding in education, the more rural areas of Alabama will be affected significantly. Clearly, education and poverty go hand and hand. Education is suppose to serve its purpose, that is to install knowledge, supply skills and nurture talents, that in turn would help release impoverish families from the grasp of poverty and underprivileged.

The report is not shocking to Perry County superintendent John Heard III.

Federal programs like No Child Left Behind, Title One and the child nutrition program are all efforts to combat a number of issues plaguing ailing schools. The school systems in poorer counties are placed on the high priority, thus receiving a substantially higher percentage of dollars. However, the federal money that funds such programs are earmarked and are given with stipulations.

To make up for low-funded areas, schools receive grants. However grants are "seed" money.

The money lasts for three years and then the schools are expected to maintain the program independently. There is difficulty in maintaining programs when the state continues to cut funding.

Schools like Paramount School in Greene County are forced to cut out some extracurricular activities and maintain basic courses, eliminating enrichment programs.

To tackle the poverty issue in Perry County, schools have used grant funding to create the 21st Century Community-Learning Center.

The program is designed to help the entire family. It consists of an after-school enrichment program, places emphasis on parental involvement and influences cultural exposure and exploration.

The city posed a tax referendum, which was later disapproved. Voters claimed the tax was unrealistic and too exuberant. In spite of the inequality in the school system locally and statewide, Heard still believes his system accomplishes as much as it can with what little it has.

But meeting the standards isn’t enough for the parents, according to Paramount Principal Abraham Kennard.

Alabama pays fewer taxes than most states, which Kennard believes influences the lack of funding locally for the area. He blames the lack of industries and the declining population.

Although no clear-cut solution exists, bridging the gap between poorer and richer systems is an alternative, according to Kennard.