Low in­come stu­dents

A look at where New­ton County Schools rank

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - By Jenny Thompson

A new re­port writ­ten by South­ern Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion Pro­gram Of­fi­cer Steve Suitts de­tails the high per­cent­ages of low in­come stu­dents in the south as com­pared with other re­gions in the na­tion.

“We wanted to doc­u­ment where we are now as far as chil­dren in poverty in the south and ad­dress that re­gion­ally by bring­ing this to the fore­front,” said Lauren Veasey, SEP as­so­ci­ate pro­gram of­fi­cer.

The re­port called “A New Ma­jor­ity: Low In­come Stu­dents in the South’s Pub­lic Schools” looked at how the per­cent­age of low in­come stu­dents in the South has steadily in­creased from 1989 to 2006 as well as the im­pli­ca­tions of the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of im­pov­er­ished stu­dents in the re­gion.

Com­pared to the na­tion

The na­tional av­er­age of low in­come stu­dents is 46 per­cent.

In the re­port, the south­ern re­gion is com­prised of 15 states and the av­er­age per­cent­age of low in­come stu­dents for those states stands at 54 per­cent, or 8 per­cent­age points higher than the na­tional av­er­age.

This fig­ure is seven per­cent­age points higher than the re­gion with the sec­ond high­est low in­come stu­dents — the west with 47 per­cent of stu­dents com­ing from poor house­holds. Both the Mid­west­ern and north­east­ern re­gion re­port 36 per­cent of their stu­dents as from low in­come fam­i­lies.

Out of the 15 states in the south­ern re­gion, 11 have more than half of their stu­dents com­ing from low in­come house­holds. In the west, only three states had 50 per­cent or more of their stu­dents cat­e­go­rized as low in­come.

No state in the north­east or Mid­west has more than half of their stu­dents liv­ing in low in­come house­holds.

The num­ber of low in­come stu­dents also has sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased across the na­tion since 2000.

In 2000, four states — Mis­sis­sippi (63 per­cent), Louisiana (60 per­cent), New Mex­ico (51 per­cent) and Ken­tucky (51 per­cent) — had more than 50 per­cent des­ti­tute stu­dents.

Six years later, the num­ber of states with more than half of their stu­dent pop­u­la­tion cat­e­go­rized as low in­come had jumped to 14 — in­clud­ing Ge­or­gia.

Louisiana (84 per­cent), Mis­sis­sippi (75 per­cent), New Mex­ico and Florida (both 62 per­cent) cur­rently have the high­est per­cent­ages of poor stu­dents.

Ge­or­gia

Ge­or­gia’s most cur­rent fig­ures show 52 per­cent of the state’s stu­dents come from low in­come house­holds.

In the south­ern re­gion, Ge­or­gia fares bet­ter than Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi, Ten­nessee and Texas. While, Ge­or­gia’s av­er­age is two per­cent­age points bet­ter than the south’s av­er­age, it is six more than the na­tional av­er­age.

The small­est coun­ties (less than 1,000 stu­dents) in Ge­or­gia log the high­est per­cent­age of low in­come stu­dents. The high­est per­cent­age recorded in Ge­or­gia is 94 per­cent low­come — shared by Baker, Clay, Quit­man, Tali­a­ferro and War­ren coun­ties.

Fayette and Forsyth coun­ties re­ported the low­est per­cent­ages, both with 14 per­cent. Both of those coun­ties house more than 20,000 stu­dents.

Out of the Ge­or­gia’s 159 coun­ties, 118 have more than 50 per­cent low in­come stu­dents, 36 have 25 to 50 per­cent and only five have less than 25 per­cent.

New­ton County

In New­ton County, 52 per­cent of the school sys­tem’s stu­dents come from low in­come fam­i­lies.

Out of the six coun­ties sur­round­ing New­ton County, only one — Jasper County ( 61 per­cent) — has more im­pov­er­ished stu­dents.

Thir­teen of the county’s 20 schools have more than 50 per­cent low in­come stu­dents.

County schools with more than 60 per­cent low in­come stu­dents are Mid­dle Ridge El­e­men­tary, Cle­ments Mid­dle, West New­ton El­e­men­tary, Fic­quett El­e­men­tary, HeardMixon El­e­men­tary and Por­terdale El­e­men­tary.

The school within the sys­tem with the high­est per­cent­age of low-in­come stu­dents is Mid­dle Ridge El­e­men­tary with a stag­ger­ing 89 per­cent. Rea­sons

Veasey of the SEF said the re­cent in­creases in im­pov­er­ished stu­dents in the South can be at­trib­uted to a num­ber of fac­tors.

Ef­fects

Rea­sons in­clude an in­crease in the His­panic and black pop­u­la­tions — de­mo­graph­ics with higher birth rates — of the re­gion, high un­em­ploy­ment rates and high pre-ex­ist­ing rates of south­ern poverty.

“Also, we def­i­nitely saw dif­fer­ences in per-pupil ex­pen­di­tures on stu­dents in the south,” Veasey said.

For ex­am­ple, sev­eral states’ low­est per stu­dent ex­pen­di­tures ex­ceed Mis­sis­sippi’s high­est per stu­dent ex­pen­di­tures.

“What we’ve seen in states and sys­tems with higher per­cent­ages of low in­come stu­dents are dif­fer­ences in the aca­demic achieve­ment,” Veasey said, “such as lower scores on na­tional achieve­ment ex­ams as well as state ex­ams.”

Three of the county’s schools with the high­est per­cent­ages of low in­come stu­dents failed to meet ad­e­quate yearly progress (AYP), which are mea­sur­able ob­jec­tives re­viewed by the state as part of the 2001 No Child Left Be­hind Act, within the past three years hav­ing to of­fer school choice to fam­i­lies.

Eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents not only post lower scores on stan­dard­ized tests but also are more likely to drop out of school be­cause of too many cour­ses failed or be­cause they feel they need to earn money by work­ing in­stead of at­tend­ing school.

“Low ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment leads to low pay and it’s a cy­cle that just keeps re­peat­ing it­self,” Veasey said.

Joe Gheesling, prin­ci­pal of New­ton High School, said low in­come stu­dents tra­di­tion­ally strug­gle with aca­demics for a num­ber of rea­sons which usu­ally in­clude both par­ents work­ing full-time and lack of ex­po­sure to re­sources such as ref­er­ence books or com­puter ac­cess at home.

Schools are then chal­lenged with meet­ing the needs of those stu­dents as well as ba­sic needs such as pro­vid­ing hot meals.

Mid­dle Ridge Prin­ci­pal Karen Crow­der also pointed to the fact that many low in­come stu­dents come from rent­ing house­holds. When par­ents find a bet­ter deal they move fam­i­lies — some­times across school zon­ing lines, which leads to higher tran­sient rates.

“Re­search shows that when chil­dren stay in a school, they func­tion bet­ter when re­ceiv­ing con­sis­tent ser­vices from the same fac­ulty,” Crow­der said.

Crow­der added the sim­ple emo­tional stress as­so­ci­ated with liv­ing in poverty causes stu­dents to strug­gle.

“They’ve got to be able to leave that bag­gage at the door and fo­cus on aca­demics,” Crow­der said, “and some­times that is hard.” schools, newly in­stalled grad­u­a­tion coaches work to iden­tify stu­dents at risk of not grad­u­at­ing in four years or at all and make sure they are sup­ported with school ser­vices that will put them on the path to a diploma.

“Here at New­ton, we work with the par­ents to im­ple­ment in­no­va­tive ini­tia­tives aimed at pro­vid­ing more credit re­cov­ery and re­me­dial op­por­tu­ni­ties to help th­ese stu­dents keep up with their peers,” Gheesling said. “This re­quires teach­ers to spend con­sid­er­able time be­fore and af­ter the nor­mal school day pro­vid­ing one-on-one in­struc­tion to at-risk stu­dent, be­cause we truly be­lieve that our mis­sion is to pro­vide ev­ery child ev­ery chance to suc­ceed in school.”

Reme­dies

Veasey said south­ern states should set a min­i­mum amount of fund­ing given to schools to even out the dis­par­ity in per pupil spend­ing from re­gion to re­gion.

Crow­der said school boards should look care­fully at how school-zone lines are drawn to cre­ate an even mix of low, mid­dle and high class stu­dent en­roll­ment.

She added plan­ning and zon­ing com­mis­sions also should ex­am­ine what type of hous­ing they al­low to clus­ter in cer­tain ar­eas mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for school boards to cre­ate a di­verse stu­dent pop­u­la­tion in each school.

Most im­por­tant ac­cord­ing to Crow­der, is for res­i­dents to keep abreast of what is go­ing on with schools and stu­dents in their com­mu­nity.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this is a so­ci­etal prob­lem that schools have lit­tle in­flu­ence to change,” Gheesling said. “Hope­fully, pro­vid­ing th­ese chil­dren with the best ed­u­ca­tion pos­si­ble will help them out of the cy­cle of poverty.”

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