In Chicago, Is Bribe Money for Good Parenting an Insult?

It isn't news that financial incentives are often used to encourage a specific kind of behavior, but does a recent plan to entice parents into picking up their kids report cards by promising them a $25 Walgreens gift card going too far?

Mary Mitchell, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times believes that it does. She takes issue with the plan hatched by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel in partnership with Walgreens CEO Greg Wasson, and calls offering parents financial incentives to act like responsible parents ought to an"insult" and a parental "bribe." If this is the only way that parents of the 70 Chicago-area schools targeted by the program can be induced to act in the best interests of their children, then they are confirming the negative stereotypes of minorities that people are working hard to overturn.

Sure there are children of all races in CPS schools, but as we are constantly reminded, public schools serve a predominantly black and brown and low-income population. Picking up a child's report card and participating in parent-teacher conferences is what all parents are supposed to do. Rewarding public school parents for fulfilling their responsibilities reinforces the negative stereotypes about low-income parents. We all know what the stereotypes are.

If those reading are wondering which stereotypes Mitchell means, they have not been paying much attention to presidential campaigns this year — or any year since 1976. Mitchell says that from Ronald Reagan's stories about "welfare queens" to Newt Gingrich's accusation that Barack Obama is a "food stamp president," fears of working-class white Americans were stoked about their footing the bills for social programs meant to subsidize the easy lives of lazy minorities.

This is the same exact string that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was strumming when he made his infamous "47%" remark at a private gathering of donors, she says, saying that nearly half of Americans subsisted on the effort and work of the other 53%, and believe that food, housing and health care were an entitlement rather than something one had to work hard to earn. Mitchell also quotes Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, who said that the Democratic Party derived a benefit from keeping Hispanics and African-Americans dependent on government handouts.

Brian Metcalf, principal of Eugene Field Elementary School, 7019 N. Ashland, where Emanuel and schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced the plan on Tuesday, said his school has a 92 percent report card pickup rate.

"For me, that is not good, because I want 100 percent," he told me. "I am not satisfied. I think this partnership between the mayor's office and Walgreens can help us get that 100 percent."
But that good intent doesn't make it right.

Rewards like gift cards would serve for some as proof that low-income and minority parents need to be enticed in some way in order to act like any responsible parent should, says Mitchell — and that is an impression no one should be comfortable with creating.

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