Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/1214childpoverty.html

Poverty is high in 84 Arizona school districts, Census says
Associated Press
Dec. 14, 2003 12:00 AM

Jacques Billeaud A tiny school district on an eastern Arizona Indian reservation ranks first among the state's districts with the highest percentage of children living in poverty, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

An estimated three out of four students in the McNary Elementary School District on the White Mountain Apaches' reservation are poor, a hardship that the district's top administrator says can have a bearing on the success of some students.

"There probably isn't a lot of reading material in their home," said Mary Ann Wade, principal of the district's only school. "Most of the kids don't have computers in their homes. A lot of the parents have finished high school but don't have much higher education, so there aren't many role models in terms of high education."

The Census Bureau estimated that a quarter of the children in 84 of Arizona's 219 school districts live below the federal poverty level, about $18,000 a year for a family of four.

Other communities in Arizona with the highest percentages of children in poverty are Wilson Elementary District in Phoenix and the small Wenden Elementary School District.

Among districts with 10,000 students or more, Phoenix Elementary ranked first, with nearly half the children living in poverty, according to estimates, which are based on the 2000 census.

Although a demographics expert disputes the validity of the estimates, the figures will be used to distribute much of the federal education money, known as Title I funding, that is given to states.

The money accounted for $187 million of the Arizona Department of Education's budget.

Title I funding is even more important to Arizona as the state works to meet the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne.

The federal law requires all students, regardless of background, to perform well on state reading and math tests. Schools that fail to improve face a series of increasingly stiffer consequences.

Districts looking to help students improve their skills can use the money to hire tutors and reduce class size, Horne said.

Arizona's rapid population growth has increased its share of the funding, and it is expected to rise again this year, Horne said.

Even though the government uses poverty estimates to hand out money, it doesn't mean the figures are reliable, said Tom Rex, research manager for the Center for Business Research at Arizona State University.

Rex said the chance for error in small districts is too high.