Monday, June 9, 2008

Work to Welfare: The Hardest Job I Never Had

Yup! That’s right, I’m on welfare… I’m milking the system for all its worth! I had better go get in line before those Louisiana people and immigrants suck up all our resources (which have never once been available when I have needed them) That’s right, just another Ivy League grad too smart to go to work! I am just waiting on my next free meal ticket, subsidy, or voucher. The opportunities to exploit the government are endless! Where do I begin???

I remember how difficult it was for me to obtain benefits when I first applied several years ago. I am deeply concerned about how the most recent decision to eradicate yet another class of TennCare recipients will affect the poor and disabled residents in Tennessee. Without my current level of benefits, I simply do not function.

Before my benefits were stabilized, learning to navigate the system consumed every waking moment of my life. I was unable to work or attend school on any substantial level and I am deathly afraid of straying from my established, stabilized, treatment plan-- again.

If I lose my benefits, will I still be able to work? To function? To be productive?

Any new public program requires careful planning if it is to be effective. Recent discussions have not focused on the true impact these changes will have on the "street-level."

Has anyone asked recipients how they feel the new program (Safety-Net) should be designed, implemented, or evaluated? How will this impact the community and other social service or welfare agencies??? I want access, quality, and outcomes. I want… I want… I want!!!

The massive number of people being disenrolled or limited in their access to medical care and other social services will no doubt create significant anxiety, confusion, and chaos for everyone involved in the social service and health care industries.

I remember when Mr. Brian Lapps was somewhere very high up on the corporate TennCare ladder in 1999 when they adjusted the prescription formulary over Memorial Day in 1999. I see Mr. Lapps quite frequently since he now works at the local gas station down the street from where I live.

To this day, he insists that cell phones and TennCare are somehow contraindicated. Perhaps he knows nothing of the population he claims to know just all-too-well…. housing conditions that may or may not have electricity, broken families—some riddled with community violence and domestic disturbances. In the hood, your cell phone is your very best friend. 9-1-1.

These people plagued by domestic violence and community instability makes a cell phone the only logical option. How can you find a job with out a phone? How can you find a home with out a job? Yet even 6 years later, Mr. Lapps uses cellular phones as an example how the TennCare program is being abused by lazy, cheap, and unscrupulous second hand citizens who are just shiftless lazy bums waiting around for their next free hand-out.

Anyone who has EVER applied for or relied upon any kind of government subsidy to have their basic needs met, e.g., food, shelter, medical care, dental treatment, etc… let me personally assure you that there has never been a single time where I felt I was “pulling one over” on the government. I am not just one of the poor saps who believed what they told me they in school: I bought it hook, line, and sinker for the mere price of $279,982.00 and not a shred of financial security to show for it.

Even after consolidating my student loans, the interest alone is $10 less than my monthly income from social security.

So what happens now that the state of Tennessee will begin to cut off social security recipients from TennCare? I honestly do not think I can survive yet another re-certification process-- God knows the first one almost killed me. After three years of appeals, my condition had deteriorated so severely that I was forced to drop out of school, lost my home, lost my sanity, and lost hope. In short-- I lost my dignity and my belief in the social welfare system.

By the time my benefits were approved, I had already checked myself in to NYU Psych Ward because simply could not cope with the reality of what my life I had become. I weighed 94 pounds and suffered in excruciating pain that has only gotten worse with time. My extremities were ice cold, and my hands were numb since I went without medical treatment for the spinal injury that was first discovered when I was 22.

I am now 35 years old. My spinal cord is now damaged from years of delayed, sub-standard medical treatment. I owe the federal government $279,982.00 in student loans and when I am able to work, I make $10.46/hour as a substitute teacher in an urban school district. That job comes with no security and no benefits. It does however offer the flexibility I need to receive the bi-monthly epidural injections and other procedures necessary to manage my pain and alleviate the numbness I feel because of the damage to my nerves. And even though I cannot afford the gas money to get my appointments, pay for all of my medication, or even to get back and forth to work, it does allow me a few weeks of mobility so I can drive, use my mouse or hold a pen.

I have an advanced master’s degree from an Ivy League Institution. I am 12 credits shy of a Ph.D. in public policy. And despite maintaining a 3.2 grade point average, the graduate school I attended for my PhD will not grant me any leniency by extending the amount or time permitted to complete my degree-- or allow me to transfer those credits towards another program at the same institution since it has been just over ten years since I first enrolled. Vanderbilt will not even allow me to use any of the credits I paid for (in spades) towards another degree at the same university since they no longer have the program I was initially enrolled in. I think it goes without saying that I do not have the financial resources available to finish my last semester, take the GREs over again, or pay the associated application fees necessary to make the time spent there worth while.

Throughout the three year process of filing appeal after appeal after appeal, I acquired well over 1/4 million dollars in debt due to uninsured medical expenses and student loans. My life will never be the same. My heart will never be the same.

So after all this-- now I face losing my healthcare once again? Where is the safety net? Where is the American Dream that I so diligently chased after for so many years? What was the point spending so much on an education that will never be utilized? I understand the how; I just don't understand why.

Maybe one of these days Vanderbilt University and the Department of Education will realize it might just be cheaper to hire me that harass me, because unless I find a real paying job soon, their collections department will no longer be able to reach me on that extravagant lifeline my friend, Brian Lapps, refers to as a luxury.

If anyone out there would like to “trade places” with me for one month—I will gladly assume his/her responsibilities for that position if you can find a writer who is willing to endure and write about the reality of social services in our fine State. I do not want a paycheck from your organization; I just want the opportunity to put the myth of freeloading welfare mothers to rest. Live in my shoes for 30 days. Can you find the out? Can you balance my budget and make it work? Can you get the bill collectors of my back? Can you afford internet service to file state job applications and apply for services online? Can you maintain pride and dignity without feeling the least bit sorry for yourself and the choices you have made?

When I go to the pharmacy, I am humiliated that I do not have the $3.00 necessary for the co-pay on my covered TennCare prescriptions. At least when it was $40 dollars, I was not so damn embarrassed by my lack of funds.

Remind me again why I went to school. Remind me once more why I bother to speak out. Then remind me right now that that there is somebody listening. I cannot be the only one who actually gives a crap. My contact information is listed below.

Elyssa Durant, Ed.M.
Nashville, Tennessee
(FORMER doctoral student in public policy)

Elyssa Durant, Ed.M.
Nashville, Tennessee

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Equity in Education

Equity in Education: Are Minorities to Blame for Failure to Meet No Child Left Behind Benchmarks?

The Nashville City Paper previously reported that African-American students were out-performed by their white counterparts on the ACT (Metro ACT scores drop; Tennessee reaches new high, 2007).

Given what is currently at stake in Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), such casual reporting of racial discrepancy in test scores is irresponsible at best: Does this mean that white children are better students than their black and Hispanic classmates?

What's next for Nashville? Are minorities to blame for our failure to meet the benchmarks set forth in the No Child Left Behind legislation? High-stakes, standardized entrance exams are not only culturally biased, but also politically motivated in their agenda to help bring back a return to basics type of core-curriculum.

Studies in both the sociology and politics of educational evaluation have consistently shown that standardized entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT do not accurately predict academic performance at the college level.

Given the official release of performance data by MNPS officials, I am concerned that less curious readers may place too much attention to such details and misconstrue this information making voluntary, de-facto desegregation less attractive to schools that did not quite make the grade last academic term.

If, as stated in Wednesday's article, the ACT is a curriculum-based measure of readiness in English, mathematics, reading and science, then all these scores show us is that we have failed in our mission to provide an adequate education for all our citizens.

I am not sure exactly what readiness is, but I am certain that our schools are failing miserably at educating those children who need us the most. Let's level the playing field for a change and start talking about equity in education if we truly expect teachers to leave no child behind, we must first give them the tools they need to move forward.


Resources & References:
The Bell Curve Wars
Savage Inequalities
There Are No Children Here

Is an Ivy League Degree Worth the Money?

Two days before the voter registration deadline, and another laptop goes missing. Only this time, it was not stolen by thieves or lost by the Election Commission. This time it was the Board of Education loaded up with the social security data and personal information of local school teachers.

The Tennesseean openly discusses the salary of Metro teachers in the July 6 edition of The Tennesseean. The reporter makes it sound like she has uncovered some profound secret: Teachers are underpaid. No shit?

The papers seem to gloss over the magnitude if the situation of teacher pay and mobility within Metro Nashville. I wasted a ton of money at Vanderbilt and almost as much in the Ivy League. By investing in a useless program and a worthless degree, I am the first to admit I have made some bad choices, but now I am asking for some advice. I CAN'T FIND A JOB! I can't afford to complete the application, or find transportation to get to an interview. I am beyond broke. I am so far in debt that I don't even bother to open my mail since it consists only negative balances, bank statements, and letters from collection agencies and thed Department of Education. When I found out that someone recently used my social security number to open an account in Jersey City, I was thrilled at the prospect that my credit score might actually go up!

There are a plethora of young, talented individuals like myself who would be more than willing to work for MNPS or any other company if we could simply access the resources necessary to complete the application. We all know that teacher salary is ridiculous to begin with, so no kudos to the reporter at the Tennessean for pointing out the obvious.

Currently, I work part-time as an educator with a "Masters + 30" degree. I earn $10.46/hour before taxes and without benefits. That doesn't go far. Unfortunately, I simply cannot afford the fees associated with alternative certification.

I never dreamed that I would have to apply for a social services grant simply to find a job. I never thought about fees for fingerprinting, TB tests, official transcripts, examination fees, processing fees necessary to apply a position that really only requires a GED.

The bottom line is this: regardless of good intentions or misguided mentoring, I am a financial burden to you all. I pay taxes out of your taxes. I am absolutely convinced that there must be a better way to live than relying upon government subsidies to keep a roof over my head and Ramen noodles in my tummy.

I am not too proud to beg for a job or take some free advice if it will help me to get from here to there. I need someone, anyone, willing to give me a chance to prove myself.

Help become the person I was meant to be. Try to the see the person I could become. I have so much to contribute, but few resources get there. I believe I deserve more out of life than this, and I think that if you knew me, you would think so too.

This is the reality I live in. This is poverty. This is why I'm hoping that someone out there knows someone or some way that I can contribute more to society than what I am taking.

Relying upon the "welfare" of others is a terrible way to live especially when you have something to give back. I live so far beneath the poverty line, that I am willing to work for the necessities in life that I simply can not afford such as toothpaste and internet access.

If anyone knows of some funds to help with the application fees associated simply to access community programs, grant based training programs, transportation, or internet access for career resources, I will continue to be a leach on society.

I need someone to invest in ME!

I have sent similar letters to every agency and non-profit that I have ever "worked" for. Surely the AT&T cable bill could have included a measure to assist the disabled and economically challenged such as free online internet access to internet and the online interactive PDF application-- also the only acceptable format by HR and Applicant Services for the State of Tennessee.

Surely one of these big companies coming to Tennessee can help by hiring one over educated, underemployed, and dedicated employee. All I need is a chance.