Indiana lawmakers are looking for new ways to identify students living in poverty after coming under fire for underestimating the number based on new state measures put in place in 2015, Chalkbeat reports.
Under the new measures, students only qualified as low-income if they were in foster care or if their families received food stamps or welfare payments. The threshold means fewer students were considered to be living in poverty and caused funding to drop in some schools.
Indiana is one of 11 states using federal programs to determine poverty. Public recommendations for alternative measures included counting students on Medicaid or whose families report income below a certain amount on tax returns.
Identifying students living in poverty is a tricky equation for states to solve. For years, the free and reduced-price lunch program was the standard when it came to making this determination. Changes to this system, however, increased the number of eligible students and made the poverty measure less precise. It's further complicated when families avoid signing up due to perceived stigmas.
Because of this, states are now using different techniques to determine how many students are actually living in poverty. California and Colorado, for example, collect alternative income forms every four years. Many of the southern states, including Texas, Mississippi and Alabama use an identified student percentage multiplier of 1.6.
However the information is collected, it’s critical for schools to receive the funding needed to support those students. Studies show that students living in poverty before they enter school have a more difficult time catching up with their peers. A study by The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University found that poverty impacts students more than race.
But evidence suggests most states aren’t supporting poverty-stricken districts and that a "vast majority" aren't spending enough for students of those schools to achieve national average test scores.
Poverty is especially harmful to the youngest learners in pre-K. Giving students at this level an opportunity to attend pre-K gives them a significant advantage over those who don't attend a pre-K program. Regardless of poverty in these groups, a study suggests that neighborhoods have an impact as well.