Between 2007 and 2010, the percentage of school-age children living...

Between 2007 and 2010, the percentage of school-age children living in poverty increased in nearly every school district on Long Island, the Census Bureau estimated. Credit: iStock

Poverty among school-age children on Long Island is on the rise, according to new census estimates that focused on school districts.

About 90 percent of the region's largest 103 school district areas saw an increase in the percentage of school-age kids living in poverty between 2007 and 2010, the Census Bureau estimated.

The rise is another indication of the recent recession's toll, experts say.

"I believe it's a direct result of the deteriorating economic situation in New York State," said Alan Groveman, superintendent of Connetquot schools, who is also president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.

The school district poverty data, released this week, come from the Census Bureau's 2010 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates. It calculates the poverty rate of all school-age children, ages 5 to 17, who live within the boundaries of school districts, whether they attend public or private school or are not enrolled.

It then compares the estimated poverty rate for 2010 with the rate in 2007. Other census reports released this fall have shown an increased poverty rate for the total population and among all children, both locally and nationally.

Of the 103 school district areas that had a total population of about 8,000 or more, 94 saw increases in the poverty rate among school-age children between 2007 and 2010, according to the data.

Census officials cautioned that the poverty rate figures for school districts with smaller populations are less reliable because of high margins of error.

Local school officials said that more kids in poverty could create more of a burden on schools.

Oceanside Schools Superintendent Herb Brown, who is also president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, said often educating children in poverty is more expensive.

"Typically, there are more academic needs . . . There's the cost of hiring staff [and] more academic intervention services," Brown said.

Brown added that school districts with large percentages of poor children may find it difficult to raise money for additional services when a 2 percent cap takes effect next year.

Constance Clark, superintendent of Westbury schools, feared the tax cap "may mean the district can't continue all-day prekindergarten," a program she said is needed to prepare youngsters to read, and is part of the district's arsenal to help close the "achievement" gap between disadvantaged students and their more advantaged counterparts.

Clark said 87 percent of students in her district receive free and reduced-price lunches, which is often the only gauge of poverty that local school officials have.

Joseph Bond, Brentwood schools superintendent, reported that 71 percent, or 11,800, of his school district's students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches in May 2011. As of October, 12,400 were receiving them, "which is a 600-student increase in a short period of time," Bond said.

Three years ago, he said 62 percent of students received free and reduced-price lunches.

Some school districts, such as Cold Spring Harbor, a high-wealth district, said the census poverty rates didn't correspond to what they are seeing in their own schools.

"We haven't seen a big increase" in students receiving free and reduced-priced lunches, said William Bernhard, assistant superintendent for business. He said nine students received those lunches this year, down from 11 the year before, but up from four in 2008-09.

The census school-age poverty rate figures are used to allocate federal education grants to school districts.

A state Education Department spokesman said, however, "it's too early to tell what effect these numbers will have on New York State's overall allocations" to school districts because many additional components are involved.

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