The low-income population grew almost 47 percent from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2013 in the collar counties, according to state report card data, and nearly half the state's school population qualifies as low-income, by the state board of education's standards.
Elgin Area School District U-46 is no outlier.
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School board members approved the applications for Title I funding at their meeting Monday night with three more elementary schools, three more middle schools and one more high school in the running for more flexible, schoolwide funds.
Title I schoolwide funds are offered when at least 40 percent of students in a single school qualify for free and reduced-cost lunches, the basic qualifier for low-income status to the state board of education. The other category of Title I funds, targeted assistance, can be spent only on specific, disadvantaged students, while the schoolwide funds can be spent on all students in a school, regardless of their individual economic position.
Marci Short, the district's grant specialist, said all the schools applying for schoolwide funding next year already received the targeted funding this year. Even with the new designation, though, Short said the focus will still be on reaching the most at-risk students.
"It just gives us more flexibility," Short said.
The schools qualifying for the special category of Title I funds are Heritage, Parkwood, Sunnydale, Ridge Circle, Century Oaks, Sheridan, Huff, Highland, Garfield, Laurel Hill, Channing and Lincoln elementary schools; Canton, Ellis, Larsen and Tefft middle schools; and Streamwood and Elgin high schools.
In its application to the state board, the district must show, for each school, how it plans to address the needs of all students and particularly low-income students, how it will offer high-quality professional development to a staff of already highly qualified teachers, how it will increase parental involvement, and how it will help transition low-income preschoolers to elementary school and measure its success, among other requirements.
Research shows that students living in poverty have greater stress than their more well-off counterparts and have more behavioral and emotional problems that could lead to lower academic success. Title I funding addresses the added needs of low-income students when they get to school.
Superintendent José Torres said in his five years leading the district he has watched the percentage of students in poverty rise. Torres pointed to the challenges these students face before they enter kindergarten and grow each summer when their families' incomes do not allow them to take advantage of summer programs to keep them engaged in learning.
Once they return to school in the fall, teachers must catch them up, he said.
"It takes more," Torres said. "It takes a lot more."