Jennifer Torres from the San Joaquin Record reports on the figures in San Joaquin and the concern from school officials.
According to figures from the California Department of Education, 53 percent of children in the county qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches based on their parents' low incomes. In some school districts, that percentage is even higher.
Statewide, about 51 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Generally the county's school poverty rate has tended to match the statewide average, even falling below it for the first years of this decade.
The percentage of children qualifying for subsidized meals - commonly used to gauge the socioeconomic status of a school's population - has been increasing in the county since 2004. In 2005, it broke the halfway mark.
The statistic is of particular concern because poverty is strongly associated with student achievement; schools with higher numbers of financially struggling families tend to have lower overall test scores.
"Everybody who works in schools needs to be really aware of the impact of poverty on kids," said Lynn Beck, dean of University of the Pacific's Gladys L. Benerd School of Education. "It's quite complex. It's everything from the inability of parents to come to meetings because of second jobs to issues of having enough food."
Educators said confronting the challenges of poverty and improving the academic success of children in the region require an approach that considers what children are doing in their classrooms but also the lives to which they return when the afternoon bell rings.