Changes in poverty and how schools are affected

Changes in poverty and how schools are affected

To look at how levels of poverty have changed around the area during the last decade, The News-Gazette used census data by school district in Champaign and Vermilion counties.

In many cases, an increase in poverty around the area is caused by a loss of good-paying jobs and the economy as a whole. Students who live in poverty may move around more and in some cases, may live with extended family members, like grandparents or aunts and uncles, district officials said.

Changes in poverty mean new challenges for school districts, local officials said, because students who live in poverty face obstacles like lack of medical and dental care. They may also move around more, have obligations to watch younger siblings after school and may not have access to homework help or a quiet place to study after school.

To address issues of poverty, school districts are relying more on school social workers to address students' needs and try to work with community agencies that can step in to help students in need. As poverty rises in a school district, so does federal Title 1 funding for teachers who help low-income students who are struggling academically. And many times, teachers and school staff members work hard to make sure students have things they may be lacking.

In this report, The News-Gazette examined statistics for 2000, 2005 and 2010 from the Census Bureau's Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program, which is used to "provide timely, reliable estimates of income and poverty statistics" for federal programs and allocation of federal money.

"Poverty" in this case means that a family's income is below the federally designated threshold of poverty. The threshold varies according to family size and ages of the members of the family. In 2010, the poverty threshold ranged from $10,458 for a family of one who is over 65 to $48,527 for a family of nine with one child under age 4.

There are other indicators of income and school districts, including the percentage of students who quality for free or reduced-price lunches. (The free- or reduced-price lunch statistics are higher, because families can exceed the poverty level and still qualify for free or reduced lunches.)

The source data used for this report is available at the Census Bureau's website here:

Here, school officials talk about the issues that poverty raises in area districts.

Christine Northrup, director of special education at Mahomet-Seymour

What's the cause of the change in poverty?

"I think a big piece of it has to do with the general state of the economy and the adverse affect it's had on families across the board," Northrup said, adding that the district is seeing more extended families living together within its boundaries. A loss of housing and jobs means that parents and their kids might move in with grandparents, or aunts and uncles.

What does it mean for your district?

"We have to restructure our thinking and our teaching and our approach in terms of not looking at things from a middle-class perspective," Northrup said. Examples of those expectations are that if a student has homework, a parent will be there after school to help, or that a student will have a quiet place to study or may have other responsibilities.

The reality is of that ... is the materials may not be available, mom or dad ... maybe working a second shift or a second job. That child may be the oldest sibling in a family and may be taking care of other siblings. We have to adjust in our expectations because that child is not able to perform those things the way we expect them to. ...

We've had to work really hard at establishing really good parental relationships and partnerships with home. We have to make parents understand, we want your child to be successful, and what does that look like. We're ensuring kids' basic needs are met and if that's what we need to do, that's what we need to do and we need to find a way in the district to make that happen."

How does the district adapt to these changes?

"We rely a lot on our school social workers in terms of providing support to staff, providing support to families and helping them to be better educated about the issues we're dealing with," Northrup said. She said the district tries to provide the kids the best seven hours a day possible. The district provides professional development to teachers, she said, to help them approach situations in a positive manner.

"We work really hard to try to teach kids about the importance and the value of education," Northrup said. "When you're just trying to get by day by day, it's hard to think about the future. ... Every single parent, regardless of their situation, sends the best they have every day when they send their kids to us. They bring their kids at the beginning of school, hopeful. We want to continue that positive outlook about school."

The district also works hard to provide parents and students access to outside agencies that could help them. Because the district covers a rural area, transportation is often an obstacle, Northrup said. That may restrict access to things like jobs, free medical care and even further education, like Parkland College.

"Just being eight miles outside of a major metropolitan area can cause all kinds of complications," she said. While her district doesn't have the same number of students living in poverty than in larger, more urban areas, she said, "whether you're dealing with 50 kids or one kid, the heartbreaking aspect is, it's still a kid."

Laura Taylor, principal at Urbana High School

What does it mean for your district?

"We should have some understanding of what they're walking in the door with and how we can go ahead in supporting them," Taylor said. "When kids come from poverty, the research and data shows they have higher mobility rates (and it) means, logically, they have gaps in their learning (as they) move from school to school over a number of years."

Students who live in poverty may face issues because of poor health and dental care and nutrition, among others.

"All of this goes together with high poverty," Taylor said. "When kids come to school we need to be aware that some of them are facing these challenges."

But that doesn't mean the district and its faculty and staff members should lower their expectations y, Taylor said.

"I think it's very important for teachers and administrators and schools in general not to get into deficit-model thinking ... and just feel sorry for the child," Taylor said. "We need to really recognize the resilience ... of the children. They're overcoming a lot sometimes by walking in this door. It's really important here to get our faculty to think about it as, what are their strengths and how do we focus on their strengths."

How does the district adapt to these changes?

"What we've done is provide supports during the day," Taylor said, which is "time built in during the day for kids to get help on their homework from a certified teacher."

Or, students can take a class to get help with homework.

"We have a strong advocacy program here," she said, and advocates can help students who need things like winter coats or a book bag or school supplies.

"But we're not lowering our expectations, she said.

Orlando Thomas, director of pupil services, Champaign Unit 4 school district

What's the cause of the change in poverty?

"I think one (cause) is just the overall state of the economy," Thomas said. "People have lost jobs or have been laid off and that has been part of the increase."

He also believes changes in the school districts have resulted after several housing complexes have closed in Rantoul, Champaign and Urbana.

What does it mean for your district?

"I think we have to be much more cognizant in building strong relationship with students to have a better understanding of their background situations," Thomas said. "Once we find out if students are having difficulty with issues at home as it relates to poverty, (we're) bringing in our social workers and connecting them with community resources to the best of our ability."

How does the district adapt to these changes?

"We have instituted and implemented several programs specific to support students with a low (socioeconomic) background," Thomas said. "One is Operation Hope, a program we're working on with the City of Champaign and CommUnity Matters. We identified students from Garden Hills and the Douglass Center neighborhoods and took services to those neighborhoods."

Operation Hope works with churches and brings in mentors for students. The program also has an educational component and works to expose students to people and experiences behind their neighborhoods.

"Those students are involved in doing some community service work," Thomas said, adding that they recently wrapped more than 200 gifts for the homeless. This provides good perspective that even though they have needs, so do other members of their community. The program has also taken those students on college visits and students involved have a 100 percent high school graduation rate, with students attending community and four-year colleges, Thomas said.

The district helps connect students in need with "wraparound services," and staff members provide support to them and help connect them with community agencies that can help them.

The district has a homeless liaison for students and families facing that obstacle, Thomas said, that helps them connect with community services.

The district has implemented cultural diversity training for its employees, "to raise awareness and provide ideas (and) strategies to support students."

Hank Hornbeck, superintendent, Hoopeston Area

What's the cause of the change in poverty or lack thereof?

A lot of industry has left our area or downsized in the last 10, 15 years, not only in Hoopeston but in Vermilion County When the (General Motors) Central Foundry in Tilton closed, that really affected us. Those were pretty high-paying jobs.

After those jobs left our area, unemployment went up. People relocated. We saw this community go from a more independent community to somewhat of a bedroom community. A lot of people work in Lafayette (Ind.), Champaign, Rantoul Our community is changing. Our hospital is expanding. We have a new assisted living facility next to the high school. We're seeing more medical-care type of jobs.

What does it mean for your district?

We've seen a decline in the number of our students. When I started working here 18 years ago, we had close to 700 kids at the high school. Now, we're at around 400, 420.

I'm under the belief that it doesn't matter what a family's income is; every student has the potential to learn and succeed. However, there are additional challenges low-income students face. There are studies that have shown that students who come from a higher-family income have a broader range of experiences outside of school than those from lower-income families, perhaps because they have more of a disposable income.

We have more students who are eligible for free and reduced meals. We realize that for some students, the breakfast and lunch that they get at school may be the best two meals they get each day. And in some cases, it may be the only meals they get.

When you live in a school district where there's a higher number of low-income students, you receive more Title 1 funding from the federal government to help educate those students and help offset some of the funding and fees that families might not be able to pay. In 2010, for the first time ever, our percentage of low-income students is over 50 percent. It's always been a little under — 45 up to 50. Currently, the district gets about $450,000, which is significantly more than it received 10 years ago.

How do you adapt to these changes?

We have Title 1 teachers — three teachers and five aides, predominantly in (grades) K-8 — whose jobs are to help those low-income students who are struggling academically. They work with students mainly on reading and math, but they do try to cover all subjects

The district began offering a breakfast program where any K-12 student can come in and get breakfast before school. We know there are a lot of students who don't get a nutritious breakfast at home whether it's a time factor or they can't afford it. We want kids to eat breakfast and get off to a good start each day. One of our local churches (the Methodist Church) fills backpacks with necessities such as food for students to have on the weekends. They give it to them to help supplement their family's food.

Also, when we get to certain times of the year like Christmas and Thanksgiving, there are families that really need help. There are a lot of community organizations that help. And there are students and teachers that step up and help families that are lacking in Christmas gifts and meals. At the end of the school year, there are families with seniors that can't pay for costs associated with graduation. They might not have a dress or a nice pair of shoes or a tie or a nice pair of slacks to wear to graduation. Our staff always step up. We also work in conjunction with the Hoopeston Multi-Agency to help get students supplies, shoes, clothes. A lot of us kind of take those things for granted.

The numbers (of students who need help) are increasing. The economy at the federal and state level have been awful in the last few years, and we're just a mirror of what's going on at those levels.

Mark Denman, superintendent, Danville

What's the cause of the change in poverty or lack thereof?

Recently, there's been an upturn in the local economy. Unemployment has gone down somewhat. There's some new jobs coming in. But there's no question that over the last 10, 12 years, the economy has been very tough. We've certainly had companies that have closed. In the mid1990s, General Motors left and that had a big effect on the local economy.

What does it mean for your district?

There are many things that affect a child's success in school. A child can be successful or unsuccessful regardless of their socioeconomic background But certainly, it can be more of a challenge.

The early years are so important for building a child's vocabulary and literacy skills. When that doesn't happen, it's very hard for them to catch up.

We have students who may be lacking some of their basic needs — clothes, food. That's why the meals they have at school are so very important. Some children may not have books in their home or enrichment opportunities like a trip to a museum It's so important to build a child's vocabulary and literacy skills in their early years. When that doesn't happen, it's very hard for them to catch up. So the more young people are exposed to language and reading at home and other experiences, the more they are building their vocabulary and increase their background knowledge and developing other skills that will support reading.

We certainly do all we can to help these students and their families, and we feel we've put together a good program to do that.

How do you adapt to these changes?

We provide professional development to our staff to address meeting the needs of children in poverty. We've increased the number of social workers to 13 to address the needs of students and their families.

The increase in the poverty level also means an increase in Title 1 funds. We've used a portion of that funding to hire nine data and instructional facilitators, two instructional support staff at South View (Middle School) and 18 teaching assistants who work with students in small groups. We've also used some (federal jobs funding) for social workers, instructional support, and math and reading intervention teachers, including at the high school.

We've tried to increase our preschool offerings. In January, we had 240 seats. We have put in a grant in the hopes of expanding our facilities.

The school district also works very closely with community agencies to help students and families in need. We've always done that. We have a number of agencies who have coat drives, furnish school supplies, Christmas presents. One of the churches runs a backpack program to send food home with students on the weekend.

Our community and staff watches very carefully to see what our students' needs are and go all out to assist them whenever we can.

Jim Acklin, superintendent, St. Joseph-Ogden High School District

What's the cause of the change in poverty or lack thereof?

For the most part, we are a bedroom community for Champaign. I don't think Champaign-Urbana has been affected by the downtown in the economy as much as other communities have, like in Vermilion County. There has been a little bit of a cushion there. A lot of our parents work at the University of Illinois. They're professionals.

That said, our count for (students who are eligible for) free and reduced lunches has just about doubled in the last few years, which I think is a reflection of what the economy is doing. (It went from 6.4 percent in 2007-08 to 11.4 percent in 2011-12.) Obviously, we have individual pockets of folks who are hurting, but as a whole, no.

What does it mean for your district?

(Acklin served as an administrator at the Shiloh district for several years.)

At Shiloh, there was no value put on education by some families. You had this disconnect, where they didn't see education as a means to improve their lives. I wouldn't tell you that doesn't exist here, but it's not nearly to the extent as it is there.

Our parents are very, very supportive. The kids already have buy-in as far as our high expectations are concerned because they have high expectations placed upon them by their parents. It's not a fight to have them buy in to high expectations as students. That's the way they've been raised.

They've been exposed to things that other (low-income) students haven't. The other side of the coin is our kids are somewhat spoiled in material ways. My first year at Shiloh, I walked through the gym. A senior basketball player was getting ready to start a varsity athletic practice and he was taping up a shoe that he wore last year. Our kids don't think anything about buying new shoes every year. I think in some ways, those kids are a little more nave in a good way, not so worldly. By the same token, when you've got a kid whose dad is on public aid and sits on the couch playing Nintendo, and you're trying to tell him the value of education, he's looking at his dad and thinking playing video games is working out well for him.

How do you adapt to these changes?

We've had what we call a student assistance program in place probably for the last decade or so. That deals with a whole range of student issues be it students who are struggling academically, be it social emotional problems. It's a way to keep a handle on kids and make sure kids aren't slipping through the cracks.

We've got five staff members, including the principal, that students can talk to. If nothing else, it gives the student a go-to person to talk to just to know there's an adult in his or her corner to guide the student and help them with those issues they may be having.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Wake_Up_People wrote on January 15, 2012 at 7:01 am

I am so sick and tired of hearing parents and school districts whine about money for schools and education.  Education should be privatized! I don't have kids, so why should I have to pay through my taxes to educate yours. They're your kids, YOU pay for they're education

Alexander wrote on January 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Dear Wake_Up_People,

Re: "I don't have kids, so why should I have to pay through my taxes to educate yours."

Since education improves the citizens of a country allowing them a chance to obtain a good paying job, or innovate, thus fueling the engine that keeps this country going. We all benefit from that. 

In addition, it (hopefully) helps educate people to analyze (say) standard Republican talking points and provide reasoned rebuttal for themselves.




Yatiri wrote on January 16, 2012 at 12:01 am

Hey Wake Up I'm curious to know how you were educated?  And how was the rest of your family educated.  You did go to school didn't you?  How was your education paid for?

debbie d wrote on January 15, 2012 at 8:01 am

WUP, I have to somewhat agree with you.  My taxes DO go up considerably each yr.  I, along with you, I don't have any children myself.  But, I have God-children in school.  Yes, I want them to have a good education, but their parents pay rent, not taxes.  This is a catch 22 anyway you look at it.  I don't understand why I couldn't get a property tax cut since I personally don't have children in school?!  All I see in this small community I live in, is taxes go up sor things and nothing to show for it.....! When I see a school adding more and more onto it's building and having fewer and fewer students....makes ya scratch your head.  Then I know of a student who is having trouble learning, even inquiring with the students'  guidance counseler if the student has enough credits to graduate....she herself said yes.  But when the parent added them, the student doesn't have the credits.  So we have a counselor who can't add? And our tax money goes to pay her salary. Really?! AMAZING! Our wonderful tax money at work!

Wake_Up_People wrote on January 15, 2012 at 1:01 pm

The reason the schools are in the financial mess that they'e in is BECAUSE it's run by the government, Federal, state and local. The government couldn't run a lemonaid stand without bankrupting it.  Education and the building of schools should have always been a private business. Teachers would be paid what they are ACTUALLY worth, based on performance. And those WITH children would flip the bill instead of people like me who don't and never will have kids in public schools. 

Alexander wrote on January 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm

"The government couldn't run a lemonaid stand without bankrupting it."  

Do you have evidence for this? No obviously. I'll be more fair, can you actually substantiate for yourself a precise version of "the government is incompetent at education", and trace the specific reasons for it. For instance, if you say that "obviously the government can't educate, because look at the quality of the students it produces", can you know whether it's because

1. the students it has to teach come from disadvantaged backgrounds; vs

2. in general the weak status of education in society; vs

3. public vs private

"Education and the building of schools should have always been a private business."

Another unsubstantiated claim. Maybe it's true, or maybe not -- but unless one can adequetely resolve at least the issues above, I don't see how you can decide "private must be better". An analogy: my mechanic isn't a very good one (I think). Therefore any other mechanic must be better? No, he might be worse.

While we're on the wonderfulness of private vs public: may I introduce the issue of banks, and what these private institutions have brough upon the taxpayer? Or closer to the point, look at private online colleges and the hurt they've brought on many.



Sid Saltfork wrote on January 15, 2012 at 1:01 pm

The article shows what teachers are doing above, and beyond their classroom responsibilities. Teachers are becoming more, and more surogate parents.  These same teachers were subject to the public's rants, and raves regarding their jobs, and pensions just recently.  Why any young person would choose a career in teaching is beyond my comprehension.   Maybe, they do it because they really care about teaching the young?   We should be praising them rather than condemming them. 

Sancho Panza wrote on January 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm

I don't understand your logic on rent and taxes.  A large portion of rent is used to pay property taxes.  Why does it matter if they pay property taxes directly or via a landlord? 


Sid Saltfork wrote on January 15, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Your right.  The implication she made was that people who rent do not have status as a taxpayers.  
The complaints about having to pay property taxes, and not having children in the public educational system are absurd.  If I am a pacifist, why should I have to pay taxes to support the military?  Why should I have to pay taxes to improve roads going to Springfield if I never travel that direction?  Why should I have to pay taxes to maintain parks if I do not use them?  Don't tax me.  Tax the man behind the tree.  If you want something to howl about; Gov. Quinn, and the legislators of both parties are wanting to pass off payments to the teachers pension system to the local school districts.  That will make your property taxes jump.  It will allow them to save money for more pork barrel projects, and corporate tax cuts that will enrich them with "campaign donations" from those who they truly serve.  Watch how your local state legislators vote on it.         

STM wrote on January 18, 2012 at 4:01 pm

You are wrong "Wake Up."  Most local schools aren't in a mess. In fact, many are doing a great job.  You should do your homework. Schools belong to our communities. If you give them away to connected political donors (privatizing) you are giving away part of your community and will ultimately degrade the quality of education for the many in favor of the well-funded few.

As to privatizing and giving away what our society has built over the last few hundred years, I'm 100% opposed. Government, institutions, roads, schools, etc. belong to "we the people."  To get a job, provide a job, and get to your job, you are using people and things provided by the public (schools, utilities, roads, etc.) if you don't like the way our institutions are run, you should jump in and help, not sit back and complain. That's one of the obligations of citizenship.

bremax wrote on January 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Ignoring the facts may serve the PC agenda, but it is not the truth.


A big part of the increase in poverty in our area is that Chicago moved a large number of its public housing population downstate.  When they closed Cabrini Green, where did the people go?  Chicago gave them a Section 8 housing voucher and a bus ticket downstate.  Now we have a population of generational poverty, treated like garbage by their own city, and they are needy on our doorstep. 


Back you your regularly scheduled program: What happens to schools when poverty increases?