Poverty in A.L.

Is Albert Lea a poverty stricken town?


In the past year, the number of people living below poverty has reached an all time high. The United States Census Bureau estimates that 14% of people living in Albert Lea live at or below the poverty line. That is significantly higher compared to the state average of 11%.

What does it mean to live below the poverty line? From a technical standpoint, living under the poverty line is based on the number of people in a household to the yearly income. For example, a family of 4 making less than $23,550 a year, would be considered living in poverty.

But what about from a real world standpoint? For some, living in poverty may mean not having enough food to eat, not being able to go to the hospital when you are sick, or not having the same opportunities as other people do. The list goes on and on. Poverty causes many problems in all aspects of life, but especially at school. Students spend a majority of time in school, so the Albert Lea School District has had to face this problem. The biggest way they are helping families is through a federally funded school lunch program.

Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mike Funk said, “We know how many students fall under the poverty level based on whether they qualify for free and reduced lunch. In Albert Lea, it’s significantly high with 50% of students under the lunch program.” Students may also qualify for free breakfast during the school year and free meals during the summer.

However, the biggest problem poverty is causing in our schools is how well students do in school. Across the nation, there has been a lot of talk about the achievement gap, which measures academic success, mostly based on race and gender. Dr. Funk said, “I don’t think that the achievement gap among students is driven by the color of ones skin, or their gender, it’s driven by economic status.”

The School District has set high goals for student achievement, however many are not being met. One of the goals is that students in Albert Lea will meet or exceed the MCA state average, however in 2012 none were met. The School District recognizes that something must be done to improve this. They have set up a program called Targeted Services, which identifies the students that live under poverty and need extra help reaching their peers academically. There’s also student mentorship programs, and after school programs to help prepare students for success.

Schools can do a lot for students while they’re at school, but they can’t control what happens at home. There have been many community efforts and programs to help the most needy in Albert Lea. One of those programs is “Rock the Block” put on by a coalition between the United Way, Shinefest, the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and Habitat for Humanity. Last summer they worked on renovating different houses throughout Albert Lea.

So throughout the community the school district is trying to help students who live in poverty, as well as outside organizations. However, there are still a lot of people in need. “I’m pleased that our community is helping people in need, however I’d like to see more being done” said Dr. Funk. If you would like to volunteer to help people in need in our community, you can visit the United Way web site at www.unitedway.org.