Poverty Impoverished students lag behind their peers

Friday, March 11, 2011 11:04 PM

The recent recession has hit children hard.

That should come as no surprise. Young parents stand on the lower rungs of the economic ladder in the best of times; their jobs often are the first to be lost. Falling into poverty is much easier than climbing out, and children have no ability to elevate their own station. Unfortunately, the effects of childhood income deficits are long-lasting, and they tend to impoverish an individual in ways that extend beyond financial limitations.

The Colorado Children’s Campaign has released its “2011 Kids County in Colorado!” report, which details the impact of the recession on Colorado’s children. The whole report is worth reading, but two sets of data are especially alarming.

The first shows that family income is a very accurate predictor of proficiency in science, math, reading and writing. Between 60 and 70 percent of children who are not eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches are proficient in each of those areas; for children eligible for subsidized lunches, the figure is between 30 and 40 percent. The gap is lowest in math, at approximately 27 percent, and highest in science, at more than 34 percent.

Those are discouraging numbers. Like all statistics, they can be interpreted in various ways, but one likely analysis is that students whose parents are less able to participate in their education — because of time, their own educational status and other factors — do not do as well in school.

The bottom line is that children from economically challenged families face other challenges as well, and that’s worrisome because more families are dropping below the poverty line.

A companion set of statistics shows that across Colorado, 16.6 percent of children live in families meeting that meet that criterion. That number is too high, but Montezuma County’s is worse: 27 percent of the county’s children are below the poverty line.

And that, unfortunately, predicts low achievement — not for every child, but for more children in Montezuma County than in many other places. Montezuma County ranks below the state average on every CSAP category cited.

According to the report, in 2009, 37 percent of the children born in this county were born to unmarried women (which is not the same as unpartnered); 26.7 percent of the births were to women with less than 12 years of education, and the teen birth rate was 10 percent higher than the state’s.

In 2010, the state graduation rate was 72.4 percent. In Montezuma County, the rate is 63.5 percent. The dropout problem impacts Colorado’s economy; the cost of the average high school dropout to taxpayers is over $292,000 in lower tax revenues, high cash and in-kind transfer costs and incarceration costs relative to an average high school graduate.

The median county income is $15,000 less than the statewide median income. As the economy continues to falter, more families are falling into poverty.

The thread is woven through the entire local economy, and the report. No easy solutions present themselves, but understanding how the income and education factors affect everything that happens in Montezuma County would be a good start to speeding up economic growth.