School districts across America are struggling to keep it all together, as teachers, parents and students want access to competitive technology and arts and college prep programs, while government budgets and local funding are wiped out. Certain parts of the country have it especially rough, from border towns to Indian reservations to coal mining communities — districts that have been passed over for decades before the latest economic downturn. The following school districts were chosen to be highlighted here because of their unique plights, and to represent a broad perspective of the experiences underserved districts are going through. Despite virtual schools, free lunch programs, and government prizes, these districts are far from recovery.
- Dupree School District 64-2, South Dakota: Located in Ziebach County — the poorest county in America as of December 2010, Dupree, South Dakota’s school district has just three schools — an elementary school, junior high, and high school. Less than 300 students are enrolled in all three schools (total) on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. According to the U.S. Census, 62% of the county population lives in poverty, and nearly half of the population is under the age of 18.
- Brownsville Independent School District, Brownsville, TX: In October 2008, this school district got a major boost — a $1 million academic progress award from The Broad Prize for Urban Education. Graduating Brownsville seniors got the prize money to use as scholarships for college, a worthwhile way to divvy up the money, but one that didn’t help existing teachers or students still struggling. Considered one of the poorest school districts in the country, Brownsville is located just over one mile from the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas. Nearly 98% of 50,000 students are Hispanic, and just under half are still learning English. And an AP article published on Houston’s ABC TV station website noted that the “surrounding Cameron County had the highest poverty rate for a county of its size in the country at 34.7 percent.”
- Shannon County School District, Batesland, South Dakota: One of the poorest school districts in the country is also one of the most stressed and depressed. In December 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools gave $50,000 to Shannon County School District in the form of an emergency grant to help slow the suicide rate there. Nine students living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — which sends students to Shannon County Schools as well as to its own Bureau of Indian Education school — committed suicide during the 2009-2010 school year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Shannon County is the second poorest county in the country in terms of lowest per capita income.
- North Forest Independent School District, Houston, TX: Corruption and stagnant academic reports have plagued the North Forest School District in the Houston neighborhood of Aldine, TX, for some time, and the members of the school board were actually booted from office during the summer of 2008. Students in the district came from poor families, but shady money management compounded the finance problems even further. The already stressed school started the 2009 school year with an $11.8 million deficit, and many banks denied the district’s request for loans. A year later, graduating seniors were rewarded for sticking it out with the $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education.
- La Joya Independent School District, Mission to Sullivan City, TX: La Joya ISD serves several unincorporated towns in far South Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border. Cuevitas, TX, especially, is a tiny town in the school district, but was rated by the U.S. Census Bureau as being the poorest community in Texas. La Joya ISD is also one of the fastest growing school districts in Texas, adding about 1,400 students each academic year.
- Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD: Another poor school district in South Texas is Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, which serves several towns in the same metro area as Cuevitas. Connected to Mexico by bridge, over 46% of Pharr’s school-age population lives below the poverty line.
- South Carolina Public Charter School District, Columbia, SC: Though it’s one of the poorest school districts in the country, South Carolina’s Public Charter School District actually experienced a clamor of enrollment for the beginning of the 2010 academic year. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the district spends the least amount per child in the entire country, and it receives no local funding. But the district’s innovative virtual charter schools have attracted families from all over the state, who have decided to enroll their students in online learning environments. A lack of funding has since threatened the virtual school system, but many are still being advertised on the district’s website.
- Lee County Public Schools, Lee County, VA: School funding in Virginia is known as being among the most unbalanced in the country. Officials regularly skip over poor school districts, leaving rural communities like Lee County — one of the poorest communities in the state — behind. The coal mining and tobacco farming town has a depressing poverty rate — over 30% of school-age children are living below the poverty line.
- Northridge School District, Dayton, OH: Dayton-area school districts have been serving increasingly poor students and communities in recent years, and the number of free or reduced lunches is a barometer for evaluating this trend. Northridge School District — which includes five schools — has seen a 15% increase in the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunches. That percent change isn’t the greatest of all the Dayton districts, but it does make nearly 80% of students in Northridge eligible for the program. That means Northridge has the greatest number of kids living in poverty or in poor conditions.
- Fountain Hills Unified School District, Scottsdale, AZ: Kids are going to starve if the financial situation at Fountain Hills Unified School District doesn’t shape up. Budget cuts and a lack of funding — or poor money management — mean that free and reduced price lunches are being tightly regulated and minimized. Elementary school students whose free lunch accounts dip into negative balances will be allowed a maximum of three meals as part of a grace period. “After that,” Mary Beth Faller reports for AZCentral.com, “students will get a free lunch of a cheese sandwich, a piece of fruit and milk for two days. After that, meals will not be provided.” Middle school students are cut off after the three-meal grace period, and high schoolers receive no food after their accounts go negative.
This post was originally published at Online Colleges.