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More students living in poverty, but little funding available to help them

Cafeterimanager MariVerduzco restocks tray as line students get their food during breakfast program Evans Elementary School Lake StatiInd. Friday December

Cafeteria manager Maria Verduzco restocks a tray as a line of students get their food during the breakfast program at Evans Elementary School in Lake Station, Ind. Friday December 14, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Kids in Poverty

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, all but two school districts in Lake and Porter counties either saw an increase or no change in the percentage of students living in poverty from year to year:

Lake County 2010 2011

Crown Point Community School Corp. 10% 11%

Gary Community School Corp. 47% 56%

Griffith Public Schools 15% 18%

Hanover Community School Corp. 10% 11%

Lake Central School Corp. 8% 9%

Lake Ridge Schools 36% 45%

Lake Station Community Schools 28% 29%

Merrillville Community Schools 18% 21%

River Forest Community School Corp. 32% 36%

School City of East Chicago 43% 49%

School City of Hammond 31% 35%

School City of Hobart 15% 17%

School City of Whiting 23% 25%

School Town of Highland 10% 12%

School Town of Munster 8% 8%

Tri-Creek School Corp. 13% 13%

Porter County 2010 2011

M.S.D. Boone Township 11% 15%

Duneland School Corp. 10% 10%

East Porter County School Corp. 7% 7%

Portage Township School Corp. 16% 16%

Porter Township School Corp. 12% 8%

Union Township School Corp. 8% 7%

Valparaiso Community Schools 11% 11%

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Updated: January 20, 2013 6:07AM



The majority of school districts in Lake and Porter counties saw an increase of the number of students living in poverty in 2011, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

That increase means schools now need to provide even more support to their students while facing continuing budget cuts.

Gary Community School Corp. had the highest amount of students, 56 percent, living in poverty in 2011. That was up from 47 percent in 2010.

Lake Ridge Schools had a similar increase of nine percentage points, going from 36 percent of students to 45 percent. The School City of East Chicago also saw a large jump, going from 43 percent to 49 percent.

Those school districts have battled poverty among students for some time, but they weren’t alone in seeing an increase. Other more affluent districts, such as the School City of Hobart and School Town of Highland, saw a bump, with each going up two percentage points in that time frame.

Just two school districts — Union Township School Corp. and Porter Township School Corp. — saw a drop. Porter Township dropped from 12 percent of student living in poverty in 2010 to just 8 percent the next year. Union Township went from 8 percent in 2010 to 7 percent in 2011. M.S.D. Boone Township saw the biggest increase in Porter County, going from 11 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2011.

The numbers are at odds with the rebounding unemployment data, but Kevin Garcia, data resources planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, said that they likely show how Northwest Indiana is following a national trend. People leave unemployment but often only for part-time jobs or jobs that don’t pay well. This means that while more people are working, they’re not making enough to get by.

“Even if (unemployment) is going down, it doesn’t mean you’re getting the greatest jobs,” he said.

Some people also leave the unemployment rolls without ever finding a job. However, it’s unclear how much either of these factors play a role in Northwest Indiana’s poverty numbers because little, if any, data exists at this level, Garcia said.

No matter the reason, rising poverty rates are creating a Catch-22 for the schools that serve them. Studies show children who live in poverty often need more help, whether its through remediation, tutoring or free or reduced lunches. At the same time, these school districts have seen their budgets cut in the past few years and could face even more budget cuts in the future.

Variety of difficulties

Merrillville Community Schools Superintendent Tony Lux, who saw his students living in poverty go up from 14 percent to 21 percent, said poverty creates widespread problems, from parents who can’t be as involved because of second jobs to children who can’t afford outside help.

Lux said there is a difference between children whose family have only recently lived in poverty versus those where generations have lived in poverty. But even those who are new to poverty experience its stress, he said.

“What that means is family members now out there working multiple jobs at lower pay, so they’re not at home as much,” he said. “Kids don’t have that structure at home, don’t have that support mechanism, supervision to make sure the homework gets done. It just becomes difficult.”

Often older children will pick up their own part-time jobs to help pay the bills, which takes time away from school work.

Those problems often lead to students needing more help at school, Jim Rice, superintendent of River Forest Community School Corp., said. His district has seen the rate of students living in poverty go from 26 percent to 36 percent and is already planning steps to take to help those children. One option the district is already planning on is increasing teaching hours each day for the next school year. That and other steps, such as summer remediation, take money. The district also is trying to keep class size relatively small, Rice said.

“But of course, that takes more state money and funding,” he said.

Rice isn’t worried about just academic performance either, saying that officials need to keep a check on students’ health, too.

Rice said River Forest is going to have to ask for an increase in its Title I funding from the federal government. But Title 1 funding is one of the items that could be cut if the federal government doesn’t reach a compromise to end the upcoming fiscal cliff.

Without money to support students living in poverty, however, they will likely see their academic performance drop, as studies show, Rice said.

“There’s a high correlation between poverty and achievement levels of students,” he said. “The school districts, we know we need to pay greater attention to kids who may be behind.”

Not everyone knows that, Merrillville Superintendent Lux said. The state funding formula for schools shows government officials don’t realize that poor students need more financial help than their affluent peers, he said.

“When government and departments of education take a view and say hey, don’t make excuses about poverty — to me, that is just a refusal to acknowledge the reality of what kids are facing,” Lux said.



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