Poverty indicator creeps up for public school students
JANESVILLE Local school districts are struggling to help students whose families are getting progressively poorer.
The main barometer of that trend is the number of students who qualify for federally subsidized free or reduced-price lunch.
Nearly 50 percent of Janesville public school students qualify for the subsidies this year, up from 19 percent in 2000.
More than 62 percent of Delavan-Darien School District students get free or reduced-price lunch, according to state Department of Public Instruction data released Thursday.
The state average is 41.4 percent.
A DPI news release tied the problem to the debate over state school funding. Gov. Scott Walker has proposed cutting school aid and keeping districts from raising local property taxes.
"Funding for public schools is vital at a time when two out of five students receive free or reduced-price school meals," Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers said in the news release.
Locally, district officials said the fact that more and more children come from low-income families was no surprise and, they'll deal with the hand they are dealt.
Poverty can affect student achievement, but teachers and staff members in the Delavan-Darien School District are aware of that and try to support every student, Administrator Wendy Overturf said.
"We just deal with our kids and make sure we're meeting all their needs that we can at school," Overturf said.
The district doesn't emphasize the issue as part of its programming, but support for students is visible in teachers' actions, Overturf said.
"If a student comes to school with a basic need not being met or an additional need, like, during holidays, our staff has been more than giving to make sure kids get what they need," Overturf said.
The Janesville district has cut four social-worker positions as it seeks to balance next year's budget, school counselors may be next. These are precisely the kinds of workers who deal with the problems that students bring from home to school.
"It's a concern—how are we going to serve all of our schools with those numbers steadily increasing?" said Yolanda Cargile, Janesville's director of programs for at-risk students.
"I'm sitting here trying to brainstorm ideas to increase funds to save positions. That's definitely a concern of mine," Cargile said.
"As a district, we're going to make sure we're serving those students. I want to send that message, that regardless of cuts, we're going to make sure the students' needs are being met," Cargile said.
"We're going to have to re-evaluate what services look like with less people," Cargile added.
Eligibility for subsidized lunches is based on family income. Federal eligibility guidelines allow free meals for children in households with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty rate, which is $28,655 for a family of four.
Children qualify for reduced-price lunch if their family's annual income is under 185 percent of the federal poverty rate—or $28,655 to $40,793 for a family of four. About 6 percent of students statewide qualify for reduced-price lunch.