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Low income students up more than 50 percent in Champaign County schools

 Public school districts everywhere have seen dramatic increases in the number of low-income students as overall enrollment has decreased or remained the same. 

Across the county, nearly half of students enrolled in public schools are now low income — a 56 percent increase over a decade ago. 

Among schools with 900 or more students, Rantoul, Champaign and Urbana school districts have the highest percentages of low-income students. Low-income students are defined as all schoolchildren (ages 3 through 17) receiving free or reduced-price lunches or other forms of government aid.


In Rantoul’s elementary school district, 74 percent of its students are low income. In Urbana, nearly 68 percent of its students are low income, and in Champaign, 56 percent are low income, according to Illinois State Board of Education data for the 2011-2012 school year. 

School officials have said they continue to provide the best education they can as the population continues to reflect national trends.

“As a public school system, our responsibility is to educate every child that enters our school doors to the best of our abilities, no matter their race, creed, disability, gender or socioeconomic status,” Urbana Superintendent Preston Williams said.

Champaign officials agree. 

In 2010, its senior class earned over $4.5 million in scholarships, including a full ride to Princeton. Three students earned perfect ACT scores, according to district officials. 

Those successes are now being promoted as a way to draw in more parents. 

Yet Champaign school officials said that choosing where a child goes to school may be tough for some parents. Champaign school district has a schools-of-choice system. 

“Making choices about education for their children may be important, but they don’t have the margin to make it a priority because they are just trying to figure out how they are going to put food on the table and that’s tough,” said district spokeswoman Lynn Peisker. 

Those choices can be even tougher with the cost of alternative private schools. 

Two local private schools that have seen increases in enrollment can costs thousands, though tuition assistance is available. 

Tuition rates at the High School of St. Thomas More ranges between $6,910 and $11,592 for the upcoming 2012-2013 school year, according to its website. 

Tuition rates at Countryside School for next year range between $11,168 to $11,552 plus supply fees, according to its website. 

Among Champaign County school districts with at least 400 kids, low-income students number the fewest the St. Joseph’s elementary and high school districts.

Only 14.5 percent of students in the St. Joseph grade school district are low income, while 10 percent of its high school population is, according to state data. 

The elementary school district also had the most growth over the past decade: 32 percent more students than 10 years ago. 

Its growth can be attributed to the quality of the school district, the housing cost and the proximity to Champaign-Urbana, said Todd Pence, the elementary school district’s superintendent.

Enrollment is stagnant now but would continue to grow if lots in the village’s subdivisions were available, he said.

“When a house does become available, a family moves in and brings young kids,” Pence said. 

The median value of a house is $160,000, according to 2010 Census estimates. Rentals make up less than 20 percent of the village’s housing market. 

“I think the best thing we can do and control are the programs and services we offer and try to do the best we can so they’re attractive for anyone to move in and I think we have that here,” Pence said. 

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