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Nearly half of WCPS students eligible for free or reduced-price meals

If the trend continues, numbers will reach 50 percent in a year or two

November 04, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

Almost half of Washington County Public Schools' students in kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible for free or reduced-price meals this school year, school system officials said.

As of Oct. 31, 46.8 percent of K-12 students were eligible for the discounted meal program, according to presentation documents for the enrollment report provided to the Board of Education during the Nov. 1 meeting.

"It's always sobering to me to see the free and reduced meal rates continue to climb," said school board member Justin Hartings, according to an online broadcast of the meeting.

The percentage of the K-12 population that is eligible for the discounted meal program has risen steadily since at least the 2001-02 school year, when 30.7 percent of students were eligible to receive discounted meals, according to presentation documents.

If it continues to increase at this pace, the percentage of K-12 students eligible for discounted meals will be 50 percent in a year or two, Hartings said.

"Just is a continual reminder that there are a lot of  people in our county who are struggling with the economy and with all measure of things. ... It's just a reminder of the work that we all have to do to serve those kids who have a lot of other difficulties they face in the rest of their lives," Hartings said.

The school system's K-12 enrollment, as of Sept. 30, increased by 92 students, from 21,664 last school year to 21,756 this school year.

The Sept. 30 enrollment figures, reported during Tuesday's school board meeting, are the ones that will be used to help determine the level of funding for the school system, said Chad Criswell, senior project and planning supervisor.

Other highlights from the enrollment report were:

  • The number of prekindergartners was 485, compared to 538 last school year, but this year's pre-K population is expected to be about the same as last year's by the end of the school year, Criswell said.
  • Bester Elementary has 169 fewer students this school year due to redistricting and the school choice option provided because the school failed to meet certain proficiency standards on assessment tests. The school's population went from 543 students last school year to 374.
  • Eastern Elementary's student population decreased by four students. However, last year the school housed grades one through five and this year, with the opening of Ruth Ann Monroe Primary across the street, Eastern houses grades three through five.
  • Maugansville Elementary's population decreased by 115 students, from 736 to 621 students. That school was among several affected by redistricting.
  • Next school year's kindergarten class is expected to be large due to the high number of births in 2006, said Deanna Newman, a consultant with Public Pathways Inc. Kindergarten enrollment is expected to decrease in 2014 and 2015 because of fewer births during the recession.
  • The number of high school students is expected to continue to increase during the next few years, Newman said.

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