Report: Number of low income students in Janesville continues to rise

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Nick Crow
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

JANESVILLE—The percentage of low income students in the Janesville School District has almost doubled in the past decade according to numbers presented to the school board Tuesday night.

The report presented by Yolanda Cargile, the district's director of student services, says 26 percent of students district-wide were low income during the 2004-05 school year. That number has jumped to 49 percent in the latest figures from the 2013-14 school year.

"That should be a concern not just to us as a school district but to us as a community," board member Scott Feldt, said.

Feldt said he sees the numbers as signifying the community as a whole is getting poorer.

According to the report, at least 30 percent of the  total student population in all district schools falls within the low income category. Of these, Wilson Elementary has the highest percentage at 90 percent. Harrison Elementary is the lowest at 33 percent.

In order to qualify as low income family eligible for free student lunches, a household income can be no more than $14,937 for the first family member and $5,226 for each additional member. For reduced lunches, the first family member can make no more than $21,257, and additional members can make no more than $7,437 each.

Board member Bill Sodemann said the figures for free and reduced lunches are problematic because they apply to all states and aren't tailored to cost of living and other figures in a particular community.

Cargile said the report, as a whole, was meant to provide an overview of historical changes in the district over time.

"In the School District of Janesville, we are looking at poverty levels to make sure we are meeting the needs of all of our students," Cargile said.

Board member Kevin Murray said because the district is unable to know every family's household income, he assumes the number of low income families could be even higher.

"It was my experience when I used to be a grant writer that when kids go to elementary school to middle school to high school they aren't applying for free lunches as much as they get older," board member Kristin Hesselbacher said. "I always look at the grade schools. I think they are more realistic of how many families qualify (as low income.)"

The report also found that within the Janesville School District:

-- The number of students within the district increased 52 students from the September Third Friday Count of 2012-13 (10,308) to one conducted for 2013-14 (10,360).

-- There was an increase of 71 in students categorized as homeless from 2011-12 (438) to 2012-13 (509). Homelessness is defined as "a lack of permanent housing resulting from extreme poverty or from the lack of a safe and stable arrangement."

--The number of students attending home school and parochial school both dropped from 2011-12 to 2012-13. Home schooled students went from 203 to 186 and parochial school students fell from 1,087 to 1,067.

--Hispanic students saw the biggest rise as a minority, going from 1,146 in 2012-13 to 1,189 in 2013-14.

--White students make up 76 percent of the district's population, followed by Hispanics at 12 percent, African-Americans at 5 percent and Asians/Pacific Islanders at 2 percent.

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