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NY1 Exclusive: DOE Finds Almost 70 Percent Of City Students Live In Poor Households

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Hundreds of thousands of children qualify for free school lunch in the city every day, and more of them qualify now than just a couple of years ago, because their families have fallen below the poverty line. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following exclusive report.

At Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, Queens, 65 percent of the students live in households that earn under $30,000. That is double the figure of just three years ago.

While Hillcrest saw one of the biggest jumps, student poverty has increased citywide.

"An increase in poverty rate means increased challenges for the city schools," said Kim Sweet of Advocates For Children.

In 2009, one school had every student qualifying for free lunch, while 15 schools had 97 percent or more.

Now, five schools have 100 percent of their students coming from poor homes and 43 schools have at least 97 percent.

About 40,000 more students are now eligible for free lunch than in 2009. Department of Education data shows nearly seven out of 10 students come from poor households.

Hillcrest High Principal Stephen Duch said he knew his school would have to do more.

"We began to come up with ways in order to support students," said Duch.

They reorganized the big school into nine small sections, and have managed to increase their graduation rate, despite the uptick in poverty.

Hillcrest's student poverty rate is still close to the citywide average. Other schools face tougher odds.

"There is research showing that when a school has more than 50 percent of its students in poverty it will have a harder time achieving at the levels it should be achieving," Sweet said. "And the greater the concentration of poverty, the more of a challenge it is to educate all of the students adequately."

It is a challenge more educators face, as the number of schools with the highest poverty rates has multiplied.

"Statistically speaking, if a school has a 97 percent poverty rate, you'd would expect that school to have a really hard time making achievement goals," said Sweet.

As NY1 reported last week, schools with the highest poverty rates are also likely to have above-average percentages of special education students or students learning English. But not all their numbers are so high, as many of the highest poverty schools have among the lowest test scores.

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