Breaking the cycle of poverty

By Tommy Schultz
Memphis knows tragedy all too well, and last Monday afternoon was no stranger to horror.
Two adults collapsed on the sidewalk – a man sprawled backwards over a backless bench, clutching his phone, otherwise immobile. His wife nearby was awkwardly hunched over, her knees spread on the ground, her face nearly kissing the curb, inches from cars on the street.
Numerous people circled catcalling, reveling in their neighbors’ humiliation. One bystander used his phone not to call the police—he later told a reporter “it wasn’t any of [his] business”—but instead to film the scene. The video now has hundreds of thousands of views.
WREG reported that the couple had overdosed on heroin – they had snorted the drug in a Walgreens bathroom only a couple blocks away. Luckily for them, another bystander had called paramedics and they were able to resuscitate the woman.
Also close by? Bellevue Middle School, less than a mile away. Hamilton Middle School is less than two miles away.
Our kids are growing up in a community of hurt and heroin. Heroin overdose deaths have already more than tripled over last year. The Memphis fire department has issued 1,300 doses of NARCAN, a drug that attempts to stop overdoses. Without it, the Memphis Police Director has said that heroin overdoses would outnumber homicides.
The Memphis Daily News featured an op-ed last month that describes our kids’ experience:

“Children in some parts of our city wouldn’t have to walk past decay, neglect and danger, as they do now, to get to what is essentially an outpost or fortress. It’s what is left of the concept of a “neighborhood school.” And the neighborhood school, in truth and in image, was never intended to take on all of the problems outside its doors.”

And, unfortunately, many of our neighborhood schools haven’t proved to be up to the task. Despite costing taxpayers $11,000 per student, in 2014 only 16.3% of Hamilton Middle students were proficient in Math. Neighboring Hamilton High School had a graduation rate of 49.1% and an ACT composite average of 14.2— 22% below average.
There is an alternative, however, that meaningfully helps kids break out from their environment: Jubilee Schools.
Nearly universally known as the “Miracle of Memphis” where previously closed Catholic schools were re-opened, the New York Times called the Jubilee Schools “the most successful model of all” urban Catholic schools. The leaders of the school say:

“creating and sustaining Catholic schools in Memphis slums offered the best prospect of stabilizing neighborhoods and training a skilled labor force. The newly opened schools offer literacy training and job placement, among other services, to adults in the community.”

Tennessee can continue to create the same opportunities for all children that Jubilee students experience. If we want to break the cycle of poverty and rebuild our communities, let’s start with doing what’s best for our kids: giving them the best possible education that can receive. That’s why it’s so important for the Tennessee legislature to enable school choice, and give students at local failing schools the chance to go to a successful alternative like Jubilee – and all for a fraction of the cost!
As opioid abuse continues to rise across Appalachia and the United States, our communities will only continue to be hit harder by their impacts. Coupled with weak education systems in economically challenged urban environments, there could be a proverbial death spiral in the near future if schools like Jubilee aren’t given the opportunity to save more children from the pipeline—a pipeline that could very well end up with more poverty, crowded prisons, or overdose incidents spilling over in the streets.


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