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Survey: Teachers Call Poverty a Big Obstacle to Education

A survey of Illinois teachers finds children who live in poverty have a hard time focusing in school and often have behavior problems. (Victoria Jordan)
A survey of Illinois teachers finds children who live in poverty have a hard time focusing in school and often have behavior problems. (Victoria Jordan)
September 26, 2016

CHICAGO – A new survey has found that poverty, community violence and unstable housing are the largest barriers to good education for Illinois kids.

The nonprofit group Communities in Schools asked teachers, principals and school administrators across the country about the obstacles that get in the way of educating children.

Executive Director Jane Mentzinger said students from low-income families are now the majority in the nation's public schools, and for them, the cost of school supplies, a pair of glasses or even food in the fridge can be a burden they carry with them to school every day.

"It's hard to think about your algebra test or your geometry test when you have some of those barriers,” Mentzinger said. "What we're trying to do is connect schools and students primarily with some of those extra resources and supports that they need so they can overcome them."

The report found nearly 90 percent of teachers think poverty is the number one barrier to a child's education.

Mentzinger said the problem is seen in school districts across Illinois, and is especially prevalent in urban areas like Chicago, where 85 percent of public-school students live in low-income households.

She pointed out that teachers often blame poverty for disruptive behavior, chronic absenteeism and students' poor health. But, she said, children are very resilient, and if their basic needs can be mwr, they succeed in school.

"What we know is that if we can keep kids on track and academically successful in first, second, third, sixth grade, we know that by the time they're going to get to high school, they're going to be able to stay in school and they're going to graduate on time,” Mentzinger said.

According to the report, 1.2 million students drop out of school every year. And on average, each of these students will cost taxpayers roughly $292,000, as they are more likely to need community assistance.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IL