Michigan Program Pays Poor Parents to Stay Put, Improving Education for Schoolchildren

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This is part of the America's Future series airing on FOX News Channel, looking at the challenges facing the country in the 21st century.

FLINT, Mich. — A pilot program in Michigan is trying to combat a faltering education system by writing rent checks for poor parents — just as long as they remain in the same house and keep their kids attending the same school.

Lydia Palmateer, 10, is already a year behind other kids her age at Washington Elementary School in Flint, Michigan. She's changed schools seven times and had to be held back just to keep up.

"I wish I could stay at Washington [Elementary School], so I won't have to keep moving again and leave my old friends behind," she said.

Jessica Palmateer, Lydia's mom, says that as she struggles to pay rent she's had to move her family repeatedly. "I wanted to be there for a while but it doesn't happen that way," she said.

And she's not alone. Social workers in Michigan say the slumping economy is leaving many families in Flint without steady jobs and stable places to call home. The Department of Human Services says that in 2002, three out of every four students who started the school year at one Flint school didn't finish because they moved out of the area.

"We might get them in the beginning of the year and sometimes through the year they may go to another building or go out of district and return several times," said Maria Hope, principal of Washington Elementary. "The worst that I've seen is that a couple of years ago, I noticed we had a little boy that was in the 2nd grade and we were his 8th school."

Michigan Human Services hopes it has found a solution. It obtained grant money and donations and came up with a program called Genesee Scholars, named after the county of which Flint is the seat.

The program pays the landlords of poorer parents $100 a month for rent. In exchange, parents agree to stay put for two years, and landlords promise not to raise the rent during that time.

The results so far are promising, according to school officials.

"We definitely did see an increase in academics as well as a decrease in behavior problems," Hope said.

Results show that among children in the Genesee Scholars program, 75 percent met testing standards for their grade level, compared with just 35 percent of those who didn't participate, during the program's first year.

As part of the program, the students were also grouped together with the same classmates and teacher for the two-year time period. About 80 families in all have participated.

More students signed up in January, and there are plans to expand the program. And several school leaders around the country have contacted the Michigan Human Services to look into creating a program like it in their own districts.

School administrators in Flint have also implemented tighter curricula, with teachers remaining just one or two days apart in their lesson plans. They say if a child does move from one school to another in the district, they may be able to jump back into the classroom quicker without feeling confused.

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