No Child Left a Dime

Springfield, Missouri

“All they need to do is pick themselves up by their bootstraps.”

That’s the myth propagated by so many (rich) conservative pundits as the key for the underprivileged to gain financial success. So what happens when the straps are stolen right off of your boots?

In Missouri, traditionally a swing state, newly elected Governor Matt Blunt [R] is doing precisely that. Following the lead of his hero, Dubyah Bush, Blunt wants to do to the state of Missouri what Bush is accomplishing nationally. Namely to strip low-income and special need families of any and all forms of assistance that could help them better their lives. The swing to the right by Missouri voters is already having devastating consequences on even those who have had a firm grasp on their bootstraps for years.

I can’t think of a better example than my friend “Katy” and her daughter “Charlotte.”

Katy, a single parent who receives no child support, struggled financially after a broken marriage but still managed an undergraduate degree through the use of student loans. In central Missouri, offshore labor’s closest competition on the mainland, that translates to a $10 per hour job if you’re lucky. Even with the financial difficulties of raising a child on such paltry compensation for “doing the right thing,” Katy has gone on to work on her Master’s Degree, which she will receive this summer. Funding for that degree has come from a combination of working 2 regular jobs, a third part-time position and “moonlighting” as a graphics designer for various businesses on a job-by-job basis. Those bootstraps can get awfully heavy.

Meanwhile, her daughter Charlotte has thrived, a straight-A student who will graduate from high school next month as Valedictorian of her class. And with an offer a “full-boat” scholarship from Missouri State–or so she thought. So much talent and determination in one family–it’s a surefire formula for the next great success story.

If only Matt Blunt weren’t such a liar.

One of Blunt’s most vocal campaign pledges was a new emphasis on education. The previous (Democratic) administration’s record in that area had sure enough been abysmal. But by the time Blunt gets done, the Dems might end up looking like the great emancipators of the illiterate.

Within months of taking office, Blunt went to work at chopping away at education, once a formidable and somewhat affordable tool in the advancement of one’s economic status, by withholding 300 million dollars of promised funding from state schools. Blunt stated that this was just a “delay” in delivering the funding. “And besides,” came word from Blunt, “I was only talking about Kindergarten through grade 12 during my campaign.” Some of the colleges had to scramble by taking out loans from private banks. Those loans are not interest-free. College tuition, even at state and community colleges, has been escalating for years, far outstripping any rise in average income. Loss of state funding could cause tuition, even at publicly supported schools, to skyrocket beyond the reach of all but the most privileged.

In his short time in office, Blunt has also wielded a heavy ax to child service programs (in a state that has made almost as many national headlines for dead or missing foster children in its care as Bush-brother Jeb’s Florida), senior services, and among the most egregious cuts of Medicaid in the country.

What does this mean to Katy and Charlotte?

For starters, there is no more funding for Katy to continue her best-paying job ($10/hr), as a facilitator in the state’s Project Access program (a program that already received a 75% reduction in staffing last year). Project Access connects school districts with autism specialists to help teachers and parents understand and work effectively with children experiencing autism spectrum disorders.

This is bad for Katy, as she loses a primary source of income. It is devastating for autistic children and the schools that struggle to help them overcome their disability. I suppose, in this case, Blunt’s re-channeled emphasis on grades K-12 only applies for “normal” healthy children.

And Charlotte? She just received word today that her state scholarship had been reduced to $3,500–which in the realm of college tuition means almost nothing. I guess what Katy and Charlotte need to do is “pick themselves up by their bootstraps.” They can probably find them lying somewhere in Matt Blunt’s office.

BILL GLAHN is a freelance writer from Springfield, Mo. and RIAA Watch columnist for CounterPunch. He can be reached at: