Keeping Track of Poverty Levels in School

Keeping Track of Poverty Levels in School
By: CJ Cassidy
It's not just your child who brings home a report card every year.  Did you know schools get one too?
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education keeps track of students who come from low income families through the free and reduced cost lunch programs.
School leaders say those numbers help them figure out how many students might need extra help or attention in and out of school.
We asked for a sneak peek of the latest report card from DESE that comes out in December, and the findings might surprise you.
These days everything is high tech; so it's no surprise even students at the elementary level punch in a digital code when they pick up their lunch trays.
Those codes don't just track account balances, they also help school leaders figure out who qualifies for free and reduced lunches...and who comes from low income families.
"Just because a student's on a free and reduced lunch doesn't mean that's a low performing student," said Cape Girardeau Public Schools Superintendent Dave Scala.
Those numbers give school leaders an idea of what parents can and can't do for their kids at home.
"Maybe they can't afford to take children to do enrichment activities.  That's why we try to provide mentoring programs after school tutoring, even pre-school programs," he said.
The latest figures show more than half of Cape's student body come from low income families, while neighboring Jackson only has 28.6%.
In Scott County, Kelso has more than 17% of low income students, but Scott City shows more than 40%.
Dave Scala said cities with more diverse populations are likely to show higher numbers of low income students, but educators make sure students in all schools have equal footing.
So how do parents feel about the state keeping track of how much money they have?
"If that's what it took to make a positive impact, they've gotta do what they gotta do," one mom said. 
"I think it's good to monitor and keep track to make sure children get what they need," another mom added.
Information on students who get free and reduced lunches is kept strictly confidential.
They qualify based on federal poverty guidelines.
Those new report cards come out December 1st.