New school poverty figures obscure need in Gateway Cities
Since Massachusetts passed education reform in 1993, the share of Gateway City students who are low-income has risen from less than half to two-thirds. This concentration of poverty in Gateway City school districtsmeans nearly every student in these urban centers now attends a school wheremore than 40 percent of the students are poor—a threshold social scientists suggesthas negative repercussions.
As reported by the Globe, Massachusetts recently changed the process for identifying students from low-income families. In the past, the state used eligibility for the federal free or reduced price lunch program to designate students a slow-income. Because high-poverty schools are no longer required to determine individual eligibility, the state is now using participation in other federal anti-poverty programs to classify students as low-income.
By this measure, the percentage of Gateway City students who are low-income falls from 65 percent to 43 percent. The change does not alter the distribution of poor students in Massachusetts; the percentage of all the low-income students in the state served by Gateway City districts remains steady at 47 percent.
However, the former measure gave us a more accurate picture of disadvantage. Eligibility for the free or reduced price lunch program required families to earn less than 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold. For a single parent with two-children, this meant annual income from all sources totaling less than $37,000. According to data from MIT, these earnings represent about 60 percent of a living wage in Massachusetts.