That's the percentage of children in Illinois public schools who come from poverty-stricken homes and thus qualify for a free or reduced lunch at school, according to data recently released by the Illinois State Board of Education.
It's a big increase over the percentage of poor students the board tracked in 1996, when just less than 35 percent received a free or reduced lunch. A multi-year analysis (PDF) shows that for much of the late 1990s the percentage of low-income students remained relatively constant, at about 36 percent. But that number started to creep up in 2001. Two years later, 40 percent of all public school students were poor. In 2009, the percentage was 42.9. The 2.5 percent leap between '09 and last year is the biggest the state has recorded in 15 years, and a result, no doubt, of the continuing fallout from the Great Recession. "We are seeing additional stress on families ... and we know this impacts students," state schools Superintendent Christopher Koch told the Tribune.
How can lawmakers fight this disturbing reality for children and families in Illinois? At the state level, members of the General Assembly might take another look at the Illinois Commission on the Elimination of Poverty paper. The document offers 42 substantive policy recommendations on how to tackle "extreme poverty" in the state. High on that list is tripling the state's minuscule Earned Income Tax Credit and supporting transitional employment efforts similar to Put Illinois To Work (PITW). The former policy, however, was not included in the General Assembly's recent tax deal. And PITW, absent federal support, is now defunct. Meanwhile, poor children in Illinois are left wanting.