Poverty in metro-east schools has increased dramatically over the last five years, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics released Wednesday.
In 2006, 17.8 percent families in Belleville District 118 lived at or below the federal poverty line. That number increased to 29.4 percent in the most recently compiled census department numbers from 2011.
District 118 Assistant Superintendent Lynn Clapp said the trend is disturbing because children who are below the poverty line typically don't do as well in school as students from families above the line.
"National statistics show that children in poverty are basically at a disadvantage because their vocabulary development and background knowledge are behind kids from better-off families," Clapp said. "Also, students from impoverished families tend to be more transient. They have to learn a new school culture and they're playing a big game of catch up. If they have a glass that's half full, they're behind a kid that starts off with a glass that's all the way full."
Other schools with big increases in the number of families living in poverty include:
* Central District 90 in O'Fallon and Shiloh, which saw its percentage increase from 16.8 percent to 24.4 percent.
* East St. Louis District 189 saw the numbers of students in poverty rise from 36.6 percent to 57.4 percent.
* High Mount School District in Swansea had a 15.5 percent poverty rate in 2006 compared to 40.3 percent in the new figures.
Madison County schools fared much better. Schools districts there typically had lower poverty rates in 2006 than their St. Clair County counterparts. And they generally saw smaller increases in 2011.
Granite City saw its 2006 poverty rate of 16.6 percent increase to 24.7 percent in 2011. Collinsville District 10 went from 14.4 percent to 22.2 percent. Triad School District in Troy went from 5.5 percent to 7.6 percent and Highland District 5 went from 8 percent to 8.8 percent.
Only two metro-east school districts saw a decrease in the percentage of students families in their district living in poverty.
Edwardsville District 7 improved slightly from 7.8 percent in 2006 compared to 7.2 percent in 2011. Madison District 12 improved from 39.7 percent to 37.5 percent.
Still, Madison County Assistant Regional Superintendent of Schools Andrew Reinking said the impact of the recession is being felt on Madison County Schools.
"We're seeing a steady increase in participation in our homeless grant program, so we're feeling the impact of the economy, too," Reinking said. "Anytime there are additional stresses in the household due to unemployment and underemployment or similar things, we find that suddenly kids who were good students start not doing so well."
According to Census figures, the federal poverty line for a family of three is $19,090 a year. For a family of four it's $23,050; for a family of five it's $27,010.
Cahokia Superintendent Art Ryan said the Census figures don't accurately portray the financial stress faced by students' families.
While the newly released figures show that 51.3 percent of the people who live in the District 187 live in poverty, he said a lot of the people who don't live in poverty are older residents -- who don't have kids in the school system.
Ryan said nearly 100 percent of his student population qualifies for free and reduced student lunches. Because the percentage is so high, it was more efficient to go to a system where every student in the district got a free lunch instead of trying to handle the paperwork of all the people who applied for the program.
"We've had these same problems for a long time," Ryan said. "We've noticed it for a number of years, not just the last few
"Most of our kids are coming to school with inadequate food and clothes," Ryan said. "Sometimes the meals at school are all they get or they're not getting the healthiest of foods at home.
"At the high school level, a lot of the kids have to hold a job to try to support the family. They work until 10 or 11 p.m. and then have to get up to go to school the next day."
Superintendent Robert Green said he believes the numbers don't truly reflect the level of poverty in Collinsville District 10, either.
While the Census claims 22.2 percent of families in the district live at or below the poverty level, he said more than 55 percent of students in the district qualify for free or reduced price lunches.
Clapp said he is hopeful that the spike in poverty numbers is a temporary trend due to the poor economy. He said the damage done to students will be much less if the country can turn around its financial woes.
"We have a certain percentage of our families who are going to be on the poverty list consistently," Clapp said. "It's generational poverty more than a temporary financial crisis like a parent losing a job. It doesn't usually spike a lot, that's why we believe this spike is due to the economy and, hopefully, the numbers will come back down as the economy gets better.
"Kids in generational poverty are the ones who are really behind. If economy is down 10 years we'll establish more generational poverty and that's going to be a real challenge for the future. So, hopefully this will get turned around in the next couple of years and get back to normal levels. Otherwise, it could become a permanent problem."
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at email@example.com or call 239-2626.