Ga. Program Pays Low-Income Students to Study

Some kids in Fulton County, Ga., are earning a paycheck just for doing their homework. A pilot project sponsored by a local foundation is offering a group of low-income students $8 an hour to go to after-school study sessions twice a week.

Jackie Cushman, engineer of the Learn and Earn program, said she hopes the money will get the kids into the classroom, but that, once there, they'll start to enjoy learning.

Cushman is the founder of the Atlanta-based nonprofit Learning Makes a Difference. She's also the daughter of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who suggested paying low-income students to improve their grades in a 2005 speech at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Cushman launched Learn and Earn this year after an Atlanta businessman offered to sponsor it, and Creekside High School in Fairburn, Ga., and neighboring Bear Creek Middle School fit the right profile for it. More than 60 percent of the students are considered low-income; more than 90 percent are minorities; and the schools trail district-wide achievement rates by eye-popping margins.

The students who participate in the program say it's helping them, but some educators are troubled by it.

"This message really reinforces that these low-income kids are destined to a life of wage-earning," said Richard Lakes, associate professor in educational policy at Georgia State University, who called the program "morally bankrupt."

"It reinforces that these children in particular are going to be servants of the middle and upper classes," he said.

Lakes said he doesn't believe that an external motivator, like money, can trigger the intrinsic love of learning and achievement that Cushman is hoping for.

Odette Yousef reports from member station WABE.

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