After years of increases, the poverty rate in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools held steady this year at 54 percent, virtually unchanged from last fall.
Almost 78,000 of the 143,600 students in preK-12 qualify for lunch subsidies to low-income families, used nationally to gauge student poverty levels. That’s about 1,500 more students than last year, but because enrollment also grew the percentage went from 54.4 percent to 54.3 percent.
In recent years, poverty had been growing faster than enrollment, bumping the level up by about 1 percentage point each school year.
This year’s leveling-off came even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program that provides free and discounted school lunches, raised the income guidelines. For instance, the cutoff for a family of four went from $41,348 a year to $42,643 for a reduced-price lunch.
Most of the CMS students who get aid qualify for a free lunch, which means a family of four can earn no more than $29,965 a year.
School poverty levels range from 4 percent at Providence Spring Elementary in the southern suburbs to 97 percent at Hidden Valley Elementary in northeast Charlotte.
Sixty-two of CMS’ 159 schools have poverty levels of 75 percent or higher, with 23 of those at 90 percent or higher.
CMS tallies the poverty numbers on the 40th day of school, which fell on Oct. 22. Officials had originally planned to release the numbers earlier in November, as the district has done in previous years. But Scott McCully, the administrator in charge of student placement, said the release was delayed so the numbers could be presented to Superintendent Heath Morrison and the school board. They were sent as part of a report to the board on Friday.