20% of schools serve high-poverty kids

One in five public schools was a high-poverty school in 2011, according to the U.S. Education Department. That means 75 percent or more of students qualify for a subsidized lunch. The number of high-poverty schools increased by 60 percent, according to Hechinger Report‘s Education By The Numbers. In 2000, only one in eight public schools was deemed to be high poverty.

According to this chart, a family of four could earn up to $42,643 to qualify for a reduced-price lunch and up to $29,965 for a free lunch.

It’s way past time to measure poverty directly and throw in other socioeconomic factors, such as parents’ education. The school lunch figures are skewed at the high school level: Many kids don’t ask for a free lunch, even if they’re eligible.

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  1. Mark Roulo says:

    The definition(s) are a bit odd. The median family income in the US is about $50,000/year.


    And a family of four with a family income of $23,050/year is scored as poor (which seems reasonable …), but a school full of kids from four person families with family incomes of $42,000/year would be a “high poverty” school.


    20% below the median family income is considered “high poverty”?



    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Median family income is meaningless in context of cost of living differences by region.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        It is meaningless in defining “real” poverty ($42K/year is not poor in lots of the country, but *IS* in NYC …), this is what the US government uses when deciding what constitutes a “high poverty” school.


        The lack of geographic context (except for Hawaii and Alaska) is bad, but the cut-line is very high given the lack of such context.

        • I knew a lawyer whose kids got free lunch under the guidelines. They tend to exaggerate the additional cost of adding extra kids to a family.

          On the other hand, what middle class stay at home mom would WANT her kids eating the crummy free lunch at school? They serve junk food!

          My last town was ‘high poverty’ enough that they had several ‘free healthy lunch for all children’ set ups during the summer. They’d actually try to lure kids off the playground to eat the ‘free lunch.’

          ‘Healthy’ was Nachos and cheese, or a hotdog and french fries. I refused to let my kids partake. Between my libertarian leanings and the effects of such meals on their behavior, digestion, and general rashiness, the ‘free’ looked way too costly.

          • Of course, by DC standards, a lot of Indiana looks poor. The difference is that 45K here means a nice house, 2 cars, and a normal middle class life.

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            Deirdre, I should google, but I’m too lazy. So, I’ll ask an Indiana resident. How’s Gov. Daniels’ school voucher program working out?

          • Parents seem pretty happy about the school choice among public schools. The schools in our county compete for kids, and as a result, they’re starting to specialize– one’s focused on starting a vocational program, one emphasizes small classes, another has a lot of technology. It gives kids who don’t fit in good options, too.

            The voucher program for private schools is also very popular, but honestly the ‘go to any HS you want’ has had a much bigger impact, IMO, since schools risk losing students if they do a crummy job…

            And I’m a fan of the Homeschooling deduction, obviously……

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            Hopefully, Indiana will inspire other states to take the plunge and offer similar programs. Good job, Indiana!