Wisconsin’s school poverty rates continue to climb, as measured by the percentage of public school kids eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. For the current school year that figure stands at 43.3 percent. That’s just a small increase from last year but nearly 14 percent higher than a decade ago.
“We really saw a big jump during the great recession, and we have not seen a recovery in the data we collect about kids,” said John Johnson, Director of Education Information Services for the state Department of Public Instruction.
“Most of the families that are eligible for free and reduced meals are actually eligible for free meals, which really means that the families are earning less than $30,000,” Johnson said.
There are now 117 school districts that have fifty percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals. That includes large districts like Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay, but also smaller rural communities in central and northern Wisconsin.
“Getting a good breakfast and getting a good nutritious lunch to a child really has become an important part of the school day,” said Johnson. “It sets those children up for a good learning experience.”