We often hear excuses from Kentucky’s educators that our state has one of the worst child poverty rates in the nation. I knew – based on school lunch data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – that actually hasn’t been true for some time.
However, by 2015 the NAEP’s school lunch statistics were being badly corrupted by a new feature in the school lunch program called the “Community Eligibility Program” (CEP). Under this new program, if a school’s actual low income population is at least 40 percent of the total enrollment, then every child in the school can go on the lunch program. Under the CEP, school lunch statistics in many states have been rendered useless as proxies for child poverty.
So, I went looking for another source and found one that seems reasonable at the National Center for Children in Poverty. Using the chart creation tool at this web site, I assembled the following table that ranks the 50 states and the District of Columbia for their rate of child poverty. based on these National Center for Children in Poverty guidelines:
At the right you can see how the table looks.
As you can see, Kentucky is tied for the 14th highest percentage of children from low income households. That certainly can’t qualify as “one of the highest poverty rates in the country,” as some would like us to believe.
By the way, just as a quality check, I looked at the school lunch statistics for NAEP Grade 4 Reading for 2013, which was before the CEP was really up and running in most states. Allowing for the statistical sampling errors in the data, the NAEP Data Explorer web tool indicates that 14 states had a statistically significantly higher rate of lunch eligibility than Kentucky did, so the 2015 data from the National Center for Children in Poverty seems to be about right for Kentucky.
The National Center for Children in Poverty says its national data were calculated from the 2015 American Community Survey, representing information from 2015. State data were calculated from the 2011-2015 American Community Survey, representing information from the years 2011 to 2015.
National Center for Children in Poverty Definitions
Families and children are defined as low-income if the family income is less than twice the federal poverty threshold (see Poor).
Families and children are defined as poor if family income is below the federal poverty threshold. The federal poverty threshold for a family of four with two children was $24,036 in 2015, $24,008 in 2014, and $23,624 in 2013.