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Why It’s Getting Harder to Count Poor Children in the Nation’s Schools

The number of poor students enrolled in a particular school or living in a certain school district is one of the most important education data points that exists, and the stakes are high for getting the count right.

The figures are used to direct billions of dollars in federal and state aid, and they’re a pillar of K-12 accountability systems that ensure disadvantaged students are keeping up with their wealthier peers.

But the method that’s traditionally used to track them – how many students qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch – is no longer a reliable proxy for poverty as eligibility for the school lunch program has expanded in recent years.