GCS Announces New Poverty Rate

More than 62 percent of students currently enrolled in Guilford County Schools (GCS) are considered low-income, according to figures released by district officials. The rate is down from 66.8 percent last school year, but up from 59 percent in 2013-14, although that data was calculated using a different method.

“We’re not sure if this means that the economy is getting better or simply that changes in eligibility criteria mean that fewer families are being identified,” said Nora Carr, co-interim superintendent. “Either way, hunger is still an issue for far too many children in our schools and in our community.”

GCS uses Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) data as the measurement to determine the percentage of low-income students in addition to the number of students who qualify for free and reduced meals.

CEP data identifies the number of students who have already been identified by federal and state agencies as low-income in order to receive assistance. Using this method, students who have already been identified as being homeless, part of a migrant family or living in foster care are also automatically included.

Once a group of schools meet the threshold of 62.5 percent, the entire school qualifies for free breakfast and lunches, which are funded by the USDA. This year, 58 schools qualified for that benefit, feeding more than 28,000 students county-wide. Schools that did not meet CEP eligibility thresholds used the traditional application method for free and reduced price meals. GCS has 127 schools.

GCS uses CEP data to identify low-income students in order to serve more students who may be in need. Often, as students get older, they are less likely to participate in free and reduced-price meals due to peer pressure or embarrassment, and may discourage their parents from filling out the paperwork, even if the family income qualifies them for assistance.

Using certifications from other agencies makes it possible to qualify and feed students who otherwise might go hungry without the stigma of being singled out in any way. Using CEP data also reduces paperwork and duplication of effort for families and school/district personnel.

A survey of educators by Share Our Strength, an organization committed to ending child hunger in the U.S., shows students who are chronically hungry are more likely to have difficulty concentrating, lack energy and are less likely to perform academically compared to food secure peers.