Dr. Jon Sheldahl, Chief Administrator
A recent series in the Des Moines Register brought attention to Iowa’s growing number of children living in poverty. No state has had a more rapidly shifting demographic than has Iowa over the past 25 years and southeast Iowa has led the way. Of Iowa’s 496,000 school-aged children, over 195,000 or 39% receive free or reduced priced lunches. (Iowa’s student sub-group for poverty is defined by eligibility for this program). In the 14 counties in the Great Prairie region, over 17,000 out of roughly 37,000 school aged children receive free or reduced priced meals, a number approaching 47%. Nine of the area’s 33 school districts have free and reduced rates over 50% and only six districts have free and reduced rates under the statewide average. We know that these figures are probably low because some families that would qualify do not apply. We also know that the percentage of families that do qualify has risen steadily now for two decades and that the formula for determining eligibility has not been significantly altered in terms of real dollars. Poverty isn’t the only demographic that has been shifting in southeast Iowa, as our population has also been aging and becoming significantly more ethnically diverse, but poverty is a sub-group where we seem to be finding our way toward incremental improvement.