Chester County is a leader in the region’s public education sector, but a lack of state investment and a rising number of low-income students could threaten future performance, according to a new report by Public Citizens for Children and Youth, or PCCY.
The report, “The Bottom Line is Children: Public Education in Chester County,” looks at the county in terms of public education and focuses on low-income students, graduation rates and funding available for the county’s educational system.
It finds that while the county is the wealthiest in the state, the number of low-income students is increasing.
According to the report, approximately 15,400 students in the county qualified for the free or reduced lunch program in 2012, a 33 percent increase in four years.
Even wealthier districts saw an increase of low-income students. Both Great Valley and Tredyffrin/Easttown saw the number of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch increase. Great Valley saw its number of students eligible for the program double between 2008 and 2012, while Tredyffrin/Easttown’s number rose by 58 percent.
“With the increase of low-income students, often comes the need for districts to put in more effort,” said Donna Cooper, executive director of PCCY.
Kate Shaw, Chester County resident and education supporter, said that while the county seems to be doing well in public education, it is important that the system be fair for all students.
“One of the things I would like to see in Chester County is that with diverse populations, districts should pay attention that the lowest performing students are receiving the highest quality teachers,” Shaw said.
According to Cooper, as districts diversify, gaps between low-income students versus their peers continue to increase.
The report also shows that the average high school graduation rate for Chester County is 93.2 percent, the second-highest in the five-county Southeast Pennsylvania region. (Montgomery County has a graduation rate of 93.3 percent.)
Every district with schools in Chester County, aside from Octorara, has a graduation rate that meets or is above the state average of 83 percent.