The latest Condition of Education report is showing a steep climb in the number of students living in poverty. The 2010 report indicates 37% of all students now qualify for free and reduced meals — up from 34% a year ago and around 27% in 2001.

The acting director of the Iowa Department of Education, Kevin Fangman, says these students don’t get the learning support they need at home, which puts a strain on school districts. “If you look at research into vocabulary development and those kinds of things when they come into school, it lags behind their peers and so we really need to think about what supports are needed to make sure those students are getting a quality education and we’re able to help fill those gaps for them,” Fangman says.

The report shows more than 54% of 8th grade Hispanic students are reading at grade level now, an 11 point improvement from 2003. Nearly 58% of them are now proficient in math, nearly 15 points better than seven years ago. Fangman says African American eighth graders are showing similar improvements, but fewer than 50% of them are proficient in reading and math.

Fangman says, “That’s a great increase but it’s still below where the rest of the state is performing and so we need to improve that.” The statewide average for reading proficiency at the 8th grade level is nearly 74% and for math more than 76%. The report indicates the minority student population has grown to 17.6% of all students in Iowa.

In 1990, it was 5.5%. Fangman says there are 20,000 fewer students in Iowa’s public schools than ten years ago, resulting in more consolidations among smaller school districts. He says there will be 353 school districts in the state next year, down from 359 this year.

He says he knows of many other districts considering either shared or consolidated programs. You can see the entire Condition of Education report on the Department of Education’s website at: