Gingrich plan for low-income teens doesn’t sit well with school custodian
Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said his plan of abolishing child labor laws and sending teens to clean up their own schools would give “poor kids the chance to pursue happiness.”
At speaking events and nationally televised debates in his run to be the Republican candidate for president in 2012, he argued that poor children grow up without a role model with a good work ethic. His plan, he said, would give poor kids a chance to make a little money while learning good work habits.
Tom Layer, a custodian at Foster Senior High School in Tukwila — one of the state’s poorest schools with 71 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch — wasn’t willing to say exactly what went through his mind when he heard that plan.
“You don’t really want to know what I thought because you couldn’t print it,” Layer said.
Standing at a podium during a debate with other Republican presidential hopefuls, Gingrich received applause when he suggested that low-income teens just needed to develop good working habits.
Standing in front of Foster High School, Layer said this plan would actually perpetuate poverty.
He could, for example, fire one of his employees and hire her three low-income children.
“Under Newt’s plan, they would replace their mother, and they would go into poverty,” Layer said.
Layer said Gingrich’s plan seems to assume that janitors just push mops and scrub toilets.
In Tukwila, Layer manages four people who open the school, follow a rigorous documentation and cleanup process for graffiti and perform basic maintenance throughout the school year. Over the summer, the staff takes on major maintenance work.
“In order to prepare for the next school year, all of my crew works full time,” he said.
Layer said he wants students to do the same thing he wants his daughter to do at school — get and education.
“They’re here to get educated,” Layer said. “They’re not here to perpetuate the cycle of poverty by stigmatizing children as someone who needs this training because they’re different and less able than someone else.”
Mike Buchman had stronger words for Newt Gingrich’s plan. Buchman is a spokesman for Solid Ground, a poverty advocacy organization headquartered in Wallingford.
He called the plan ignorant, unconscionable and obscene. He said Gingrich is wrong to assume the lower class does not work hard.
“In our economy, particularly in a community like King County where the cost of living is so high, many working families need to work multiple jobs to just get by,” Buchman said. “These people are working much harder than the fat cats who are letting their money do the work.”
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