INVESTING IN EDUCATION TO ELIMINATE HUNGER by Christa Fisher, 2nd year M.Div.

Hunger is the result of an inadequate income.  People with money are able to purchase food while people without money struggle with hunger.  In order to eradicate hunger we must ensure all people have the means to purchase food.  Because education is understood to be the key to leveraging economic status, education is vital to the fight against hunger.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 the median weekly income for adults without high-school diplomas and adults with bachelor’s degrees was $471 and $1066, respectively. [1]  Over the course of one year, the difference in earning potential between an adult without a high-school diploma and one with a four-year degree is nearly $35,000.   This is a significant, life-altering amount of money.

Much like the gap in earning potential, a similar division exists in educational attainment between low–income and affluent students.  The truth is that poverty itself impedes students’ educational success.  Robert Balafanz, in his white paper Overcoming the Poverty Challenge to Enable College and Career Readiness for All sums up the often invisible but severe impact poverty has on educational performance.  “The impacts of food scarcity, housing instability, and insufficient access to medical and dental care are clear. If a student is hungry, without a home, suffering from untreated ailments or in need of glasses, it is difficult for him or her to focus on school work.  Poverty also brings with it an increased exposure to violence and the lived experience that life is capricious which further shapes student behavior directly.”[2]

Many educators and administrators, aware of the burdens inflicted upon low-income students, are working in innovative ways to help students achieve their full potential, such as early intervention reading programs, individualized curriculums, and intensive summer school programs.  Additionally, educators recognize that one-time interventions are insufficient.  As children change and develop so to do the obstacles they face regarding their education.  In the earliest years a child, not having exposure to early-educational opportunities, may have underdeveloped math and reading skills.  As a middle-school youth, the same student may be relied upon to care for his or her younger siblings or elderly relatives, resulting in less time for studies.  During high school the same student may feel pressure to abandon his or her education in order to acquire a job and earn money for his or her family.  Individualized supports must accompany students through the years.

Despite their success, these innovative college-readiness support programs are in jeopardy.  In 2011 many states experienced drastic cuts in educational funding.  Wisconsin, for example, passed a two year $834 million cut in K-12 educational funding[3].  This cut is the equivalent of an average per pupil funding reduction of $555.  Supposing an average class has 25 students, a $555 per student cut would total a $13,875 reduction per classroom.  Additionally, almost 900 young children will lose access to Head Start programs.[4]  Teachers and districts are doing more with much less.  Yet, given past and impending funding cuts, schools will have to continue eliminating vital programing – programs which, for many children, are their only means of escaping the cycle of poverty.

The Feeding of the Five thousand, a story found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, speaks to the Christian responsibility to eradicate hunger.  Having just delivered a lengthy sermon of hope and blessing to a crowd of more than 5,000 people, the disciples ask Jesus to send the people home as the people are hungry and day is ending.  Jesus, responds, “You feed them.”  His response is not a suggestion and it allows for no exceptions.  The disciples, having recognized the hungry, are commanded to address the pain of the people.  After Jesus blessed the small amount of loaves and fishes, the disciples were able to satisfy the appetite of the entire crowd.

Our situation today is not much different.  Our nation is faced with a hunger epidemic with 1 in 6 people experiencing chronic hunger.  The numbers are staggering and often we feel unequipped to tackle the situation.  Yet, like the disciples, we have been called and endowed with the resources necessary to care for our hungry neighbors.  We can eradicate hunger, if only we take Christ’s word and ministry seriously and use our gifts to benefit the poor.  We can contact representatives and ask them to invest in education for all children.  We can contact our school boards and advocate for the programs which serve the needs of low-income students.  We can volunteer in our communities at a local food pantry, after school program, or within a school itself.  We can use our gifts to feed the poor by supporting them in their efforts to end the cycle of poverty.

RESOURCE FOR MORE INFORMATION

Jonathan Kozol speaks to the class and race disparity within the US educational system in his book The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, available through Crown Publishing Group.

To learn more about the impact of poverty on education as well as solutions to this problem, read Robert Balfanz’s Overcoming the Poverty Challenge to Enable College and Career Readiness for All:  The Crucial Role of Student Supports, available online http://new.every1graduates.org/publications/reports/


[1] US Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Education Pays.  January 28, 2013.  http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm

[2] Balfanz, Robert.   Overcoming the Poverty Challenge to Enable College and Career Readiness for All:  The Crucial Role of Student Supports. http://new.every1graduates.org/publications/reports/

[3] Hetzner, Amy and Richards, Erin.  Budget Cuts $834 million from schools.  WS Journal, March 1, 2011.

[4] White House.  Impact of March 1st Cuts on Middle Class Families, Jobs, and Economic Security: Wisconsin.  February 24, 2013.   http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/sequester-factsheets/Wisconsin.pdf

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