by Tori Hamby

CHARLOTTE – More than half of students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools qualify as impoverished, according to a districtwide report on student poverty.

Although the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches within the system grew by about 1,500 students since last year, enrollment also grew. The poverty rate barely shifted, from 54.4 to 54.3 percent.

A districtwide total of 78,000 students qualify for free and reduced lunches as of Oct. 22, the report states.

But while the poverty rate appears to remain static, standards of who qualifies for the U.S. Department of Agriculture free and reduced price lunch program have not. The department raised baseline income requirements, meaning some families who did not qualify for the program during the 2011-12 school year can use the program during the current school year.

Poverty rates in most Lake Norman area schools decreased from last year, with Huntersville Elementary School reporting the biggest drop of 2.4 percent. The biggest poverty increase – 3.4 percent – was reported by Cornelius Elementary School, with a reported poverty rate of 30.9 percent.

Alexander Middle, Bradley Middle, Hough High and North Mecklenburg High also reported slight increases in their poverty rate.

North Mecklenburg High School – which pulls students from north Charlotte as well as Huntersville – reported the highest poverty rate of 56.1 percent, while Torrence Creek Elementary School reported the lowest, at 11.7 percent.

The district – which released the report to the CMS Board of Education on Nov. 30 – takes an official count of the total number of students receiving free and reduced priced lunch on the 40th day of each school year.