Measuring School-Age Poverty by Community, Not Lunch

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    Brownsville’s P.S. 150, where average school community income is just $16,440

    Qualification for free or reduced-price lunch has, for decades, been the prime quantifier of students’ socioeconomic status in New York City public schools. Not any more.

    A new study by the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) argues the federally funded food subsidy is based on a dated understanding of the poverty line, and does not sufficiently account for New York’s high cost of living when determining eligibility for the program.

    Instead, the IBO has developed an alternative way to measure poverty by measuring income on a larger, community metric, using the median household income of a neighborhood based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

    The report listed the average school community income as ranging from a high of nearly $168,090 at P.S. 89 in Tribeca to a low of about $16,440 at P.S. 150 in Brownsville.

    The findings also placed Brooklyn’s Seagate-Coney Island neighborhood at the far end of the spectrum, with the lowest median household income of any census tract in New York at $9,700.

    Communities in The Bronx were found to be the poorest over all, with Brooklyn having the second lowest numbers in terms of household income.

    “Policymakers and researchers often analyze the interaction between socioeconomic status and educational performance,” said the report. It seems likely that under the new measurement, more students will be classified as poor, which could affect the official evaluation of school performance.

    The new metric could be used if an initiative to give all students free lunches passes. Right now, in New York City, most students are are already considered low income and qualify for a free school lunch: 80 percent.

    [Source: IBO Report | Photo: Kate Leonova for PropertyShark]

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