By ZHAO PENG
Capital News Service
LANSING— Numerous studies show that poverty and income are the two best predictors of a student’s success in school. This has been proven in Michigan recently, according to education experts.
The average scores of the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (M-STEP) are low, with 12 percent proficient in science at the bottom and 50 percent proficient in English at the top, according to the Education Department. Meanwhile, 16 percent of Michigan children live in school districts with concentrated poverty, one of the largest percentages among the states, according to a Kids Count in Michigan report by the Michigan League for Public Policy.
Gretchen Dziadosz, executive director of the Michigan Education Association (MEA), the state’s largest teacher and school personnel union, said the increase in poor students and poor school districts hurts students’ academic performance. She attributed that increase to the fact that Michigan hasn’t fully recovered from the recession.
“Children in poverty have far lower rates of academic achievements than their classmates,” she said.
Alicia Warren, the league’s Kids Count project director, agrees with that it’s more difficult for low-income students to graduate on time.
“Low-income students are more likely to struggle to complete school than those with more financial and other resources,” Warren said. “For those economically disadvantaged students, their completion rate is 65.6 percent, and the dropout rate is 15.7 percent.”
The league said the proportion of children in poverty got worse despite the economic recovery.
“Michigan is coming off a very, very long recession, and working families lost their income considerably during this recession,” Dziadosz said.
“There has been a drastic decline in the standard of living for middle class and working class families in the state, which puts more and more children in poverty,” she said.
In 2013, 522,365 children, almost a quarter of all children ages 0-17, lived in poverty, half of them in extreme poverty, with families struggling to get by on income less than half of the poverty level. The rate for African-American children was five times that of Asian-Americans and three times that of whites in the state, the study said.
According to the league, in 2014 almost half of students were considered economically disadvantaged and qualified for free or reduced-price meals, a 5 percent increase from 2013. And 12.2 percent lived in concentrated poverty districts, three times higher than the national average. The number of high poverty districts increased from 120 in 2006 to 243 in 2013.
“For the 2014-15 school year, the five counties with the highest poverty ranking are Lake, Oceana, Roscommon, Iosco and Cheboygan,” said Alex Rossman, communication director of Michigan League for Public Policy. “We can measure poverty for schools districts by the free/reduced-lunch counts, which Michigan Kids Count does by county and not school district.”
Mark Dombroski, superintendent of Cheboygan Area Schools, said the region lost many job opportunities in past three years, which leads to the high rate of poor students.
Dombroski said 70 percent of Cheboygan’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
MEA’s Dziadosz said, a number of school districts offer programs to help them such as breakfast and lunch program, but the lack of funding make extra assistance unsuccessful.
According to Dziadosz, two main funding sources are available: federal aid for education and state aid payments for students at risk. But those are insufficient.
“Frankly, the state education budget is not adequate to fund extra needs of students in poverty. Even with those two primary programs, most education professionals believe it’s not enough to meet the needs of those students fully,” she said.
Diziadosz said school librarians, nurses and counselors can provide good programs but some districts have cut them because of lack of money.
The problem “can be overcome with proper interventions, but those interventions cost money,” she said. “That’s one of the driving factors that leads to Michigan academic performance not being what it was once.”
Dombroski said, for a rural place such as Cheboygan, the shortage of funding will result in more serious situations, according to Dombroski.
For example, transportation costs more money than other places, for students live further from schools and the roads are more rugged, Dombroski said.
And the league’s Warren said, “Poverty and health have significant effects on a child’s education outcomes, making comprehensive approaches critical.”
She said the league advocates a two-generation approach to reducing poverty, which clearly has an impact on educational outcomes.
“One of these strategies is to increase a parent’s education and training to help them become employed in higher-paying jobs with benefits to help support their families, along with providing access to affordable, quality child care as an employment support and an early learning experience for their children,” Warren said.
Other programs such as early childhood education, youth development, before-and after-school programs, and summer learning have shown some success in helping low-income students improve educational opportunities, Warren said.
Dombroski said, “It’s a compound problem and Cheboygan has no extra money, but we are trying to the best of our ability to provide good programs for students.”
By ZHAO PENG