Look at public classrooms to see the city's future
Decatur is one of the state's most prosperous cities, with median family income of $47,900. Yet 51 percent of the city's schoolchildren are eligible for reduced-price or free lunches based on income.
Two reasons for this anomaly have to do with the widening gap between wage earners and who goes to public schools.
While the median income is nearly $50,000, children in a household of four with weekly income of $671 are eligible for reduced-price lunches. Drop that income to $472 and those children eat for free.
The continued rise in percentage of students getting free or reduced-price lunches suggests a subtle change in who goes to public schools. Many upper- and middle-income parents send their children to private schools in Huntsville or to those here in the city.
Decatur also continues to see an increase in the number of Hispanic children in its schools.
These factors suggest that the school system is having to work harder for the city to continue to make improvements in academics and meet federal guidelines.
They also suggest that schools, out of necessity, have to take on a greater role in shaping these young lives.
The greatest challenge is to meet the different needs of upper income students to keep them in public schools, instead of losing them to academies, while wrestling with the needs these other students have to keep them in school and to actually get a poverty-ending education.