Economic gains brings improvement in poverty rates

Economic gains brings improvement in poverty rates

(Calif.) Approximately 44,000 school aged children in California will no longer be living in households considered low-income, according to the latest U.S. Census data, reflecting a positive shift since the recession ended nearly six years ago.

While the number may seem impressive, the percentage decrease among children age five to 17 living in poverty between 2013 and 2014 actually fell just half of one percent leading some advocates to point out how much more still needs to be done.

“The reduction in poverty was very small, and we still have one in four children currently living in poverty,” Michele Stillwell-Parvensky, policy and government affairs manager for the Children's Defense Fund – California, said in an interview. “There are differences between (school) districts and student populations; the poverty rates for African-American children actually went up slightly.”

Research shows that students living in poverty are at a greater risk of developing health issues that jeopardize their ability to learn in school, and tend to drop out of school at rates higher than their peers living in higher income households.

Title I funds, distributed by the U.S. Department of Education and based in part on the Census data, provide financial support to districts with high numbers or percentages of low-income students in order to help combat the issues they may face.

Although a majority of districts across the state found little change in the percentage of students in their schools living below the federal poverty line, others saw more significant changes.

In Lakeport Unified School District, where the community population is roughly 10,000, there was a 13 percent decrease in the estimated number of students aged five to 17 living in poverty between 2013 and 2014, according to the Census.

San Juan Unified School District, however, saw less than a 2 percent decrease in an area where the overall population includes more than 335,000 people – nearly 10,000 of whom are considered children in low-income families.

While some districts may see a difference in the Title I funding they receive in the coming fiscal year, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education said that due to other factors used in addition to the Census data to calculate how much districts will receive, it is not yet possible to predict the potential impact on schools.

Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy analyst at the California Budget and Policy Center, said that even those schools that do lose some funding will not be condemned to support some of their neediest students on their own.

“(Title I) is a significant amount of funding, especially for school districts with large amounts of students from low-income families, however, that is a relatively small amount compared to the amount of dollars the state generally provides schools,” Kaplan said in an interview.

Earlier this year, Gov. Brown released his 2016-17 budget proposal which includes a $2.8 billion investment in the state’s Local Control Funding Formula, which provides additional funds for schools with more low-income or impoverished students.

“I don’t think we could know or put dollar amounts for what districts can expect just yet,” Stillwell-Parvensky said. “But it’s crucial that we ensure that schools have the resources to fully support poor students so they can succeed academically.”