Student poverty on the rise in New London-Spicer


On a tour through the state’s newspapers today, this paragraph at the bottom of a story in the West Central Tribune in Willmar jumped out at me. It discusses the rise of the number of students in the New London-Spicer school district that qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, which is the generally accepted marker for students who live in poverty.

The stats: Prairie Woods Elementary saw a jump from 25.5 percent to 33.9 percent; New London-Spicer Middle saw a jump from 20.4 percent to 28.3 percent; New London-Spicer High saw a jump from 16.2 percent to 23.7 percent.

Hindsight is the official blog of Minnesota 2020. Hindsight gives the run down on the news that jumps out at us on the issues that matter.

What caused this jump? A phone call to Superintendent Paul Carlson shed a little light:  It’s the difficult economic times of today. “I would say that we’re both doing a better job of identifying students who qualify for these programs and making them available to them, and there are just more students who need these services,” he said.

There isn’t much industry in the district. The largest employer in the school district is the school district, Carlson said. Most parents work in Willmar or St. Cloud, so the district has been slightly insulated by the economic downturn. New London-Spicer’s percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch remains lower than neighboring districts.

On a more positive note, the increase in students who live in poverty means more federal dollars from the Title 1 program to help these students. Carlson said the district will see about $80,000 extra next year because of the jump. He expects that the money will be used to keep the all day every day kindergarten program in place.

Our school finances are a complicated web of interactions and why not? Complicated interactions abound around us, so complicated school finances shouldn’t be subject to different rules. But doesn’t it seem a bit perverse that huge swaths of a school district’s students – more than a quarter of all students! – can drop below the poverty level with just a shrug and a sigh? And isn’t even more perverse that this rise in poverty will result in an economic boon for the school district?

A complicated web, to be sure, but it is an unfortunate web.