Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Riding the poverty cycle
In the classic 1999 film "Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me," obese archvillain Fat Bastard moans, "I eat because I'm unhappy and I'm unhappy because I eat. It's a vicious cycle." Applied to Kentucky, it's more like, "We're stupid because we're poor and we're poor because we're stupid." That seems to be the conclusion of the journal Education Week, which ranked the Commonwealth 41st in the nation in its "Quality Counts" study. Indiana came in 30th. The annual study tries to measure each state's success at raising its children from birth to career. The study concluded that living in poverty and having parents who are a few tortilla chips shy of a Nachos Bellgrande can be an impediment to someday assistant-managing your own Taco Bell.

The study examined 13 factors that impact a child's chances to succeed in adulthood, including family income, the parents' education attainment, and the parents' employment status. Kentucky ranked low in all categories, underscoring what every teacher knows: when a child comes to school hungry, ungrammatical and superstitious, the job of teaching is a whole lot tougher. So it's actually impressive – almost heroic – that Kentucky ranked 31st (Indiana 34th) in student achievement, a dramatic improvement over the past decade, showing that education reform is paying off.

Trying to make a dent on the college level, U of L announced the "Cardinal Covenant" program, which will take money from the university's budget to help 150 of its poorest students cover tuition, which costs a whopping 40% more than it did three years ago. The move angered some middle-income students, who believe they're getting pinched because they're neither rich nor poor: the most pinchable segment of American society.

So, does Mr. Bastard's fate instruct our attempt at breaking the cycle of poverty and ignorance? In the movie, Felicity Shagwell kicks him in the testicles, provoking a monstrous expulsion of flatulence. So probably not. But if there's a nut-kicking Shagwell in Kentucky, it's the Governor and the General Assembly, who always manage to keep Kentucky education broke. And consequently, Kentucky.