Poverty Indicators—A Mandate For Dramatic Response—Or Else?

Ok…you pick.  Percentage of free/reduced lunch qualifiers in the Green Bay Area Public Schools (GBAPS) on the rise?  Check.  Student achievement gaps along socioeconomic lines?  Yep.  Lower graduation rates for certain racial/ethnic minorities and students from lower income households?  You bet.  Astronomical teen pregnancy rate in Green Bay in comparison to the state average?  Uh huh.  Juvenile crime increasing every year but one this decade?  Afraid so.  Morbid curiosity?  Details below.

 

The GBAPS now has the second largest free/reduced lunch enrollment in the State of Wisconsin, trailing (but gaining on) only Milwaukee in this regard.  As of 12/31/08 a total of 10,477 or 50.58% of GBAPS enrollment qualified for free/reduced lunch.

 

Achievement data reveals a widening gap—economically disadvantaged (i.e free/reduced lunch qualifiers) students at the middle school and high school levels are failing core academic courses (language arts, math, science, social studies) at four or five times the rate of peers not in that category.

 

The graduation rate for GBAPS student in 2006-2007 was 82% and this is above the national average—but there were huge disparities when race/ethnicity and income were considered.  Caucasion (87%) and Asian (83%) students beat the national standard—good news—but Native-American (57%), Latino (63%) and African-American (63%) students came in well below those marks.  Middle to upper income students graduated at a 87% clip and 69% was the number for low-income students.

 

Teen pregnancy in Green Bay is simply an epidemic—there is no politically correct word/phrase that does this phenomenon justice—and the implications are mind-boggling.  Brown County rates are slightly higher than the state average, but in Green Bay we more than double (69.8 vs 32.4) the state average. 

 

Juvenile crime—some of which is tied to gangs—has increased in Green Bay all but one year so far this decade (through 2007) and it would be remarkable if that trend was suddenly reversed.  A recent USA TODAY article attributed ‘most’ crime—up to 80% according to federal officials—in the U.S. to gangs.  Some reports indicate that gangs are now competing with—if not supplanting—foreign cartels and their established suppliers.

 

Before anyone gets TOO excited—perhaps misinterpreting this as a blanket indictment of our fine community and all who work to make it so—the intent is to raise awareness in hopes that even more entities will join the effort. 

 

We have a great deal to be proud of here—there may not be a more giving community in America per capita—so we are blessed in that regard.  There are big philanthropists, every day small-caliber donors, volunteers, businesses, faith-based organizations and other non-profits, law enforcement personnel, parents and educators…plus a certain professional football franchise that are collectively doing great things to try and maintain our quality of life in the face of growing challenges. 

 

That said, by many measures we are losing this battle, so our methods must be re-examined.  Tough(er) choices must be made, and measurable results must be required of those being counted on to make a difference.  We have to focus more on root causes—even if the return takes longer to realize—than on symptoms or politically popular investments that look good in real time but ‘teach no one to fish’ along the way.

 

The title of this blog ends with ‘or else?’ so I leave readers with that projection…what will Green Bay look like 2/5/10 years from now if we don’t make substantial progress against these trends?

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2 thoughts on “Poverty Indicators—A Mandate For Dramatic Response—Or Else?

  1. John,

    If I could have any ‘wish’ for what we see in a year from now, it would be that the community is educated and focused on the long-term efforts that will provide solutions to the issues you’ve outlined above.

    Even now with a new administration in power, all of the “change” voters got out and asked for quick fixes and movement, but now everyone’s sitting back and waiting for the magic (read: disaster) to happen, without any thought to keeping their thumb on their elected officials to do what’s right in the long run. Even out most esteemed local organizations have supporters that fall into that trap.

    Our mission as a community is to understand the vision of where we want to go, keep a keen eye on the problems we want to solve and move toward the ideal community that we all want Green Bay to be. That all starts with our putting time into our youth.

    1. Not sure there could be a more important ‘wish’ granted–this is such a giving/responsive community one would be cautiously optimitic about positive/sustained change if enough people were educated properly–blogs are but one element of what needs to be a much larger and semi-permanent campaign. The mainstream media–broadcast and print–must get (and stay) on these issues to saturate the market with credible info and hold acountable those (including us) who are getting funds to be part of the solution. There are some good things happening on point in this community already–let’s just hope those continue and more emerge–but all need to be somewhat coordinated so we maxmimize limited resources and deal more with root causes vs paying for symptoms. Thanks for your comment!

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