Latest United Way Equity Data Series Examines Educational Disparities Across Region

RICHMOND, Va. (Nov. 19, 2020) – Low-income students are twice as likely to drop out of school compared to their peers according to data compiled by United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg’s latest Equity Data Series focused on education. The new snapshot is the latest in ongoing reporting by the local nonprofit that examines inequities across the region related to race, income and ability.

United Way’s Equity Data Series identifies disparities through the lens of the organization’s Steps to Success framework, a set of nine priority areas that guides the organization’s work in the community. The education data focuses on three Steps: Kindergarten Readiness, Third Grade Reading and High School Graduation.

In 2019, United Way announced $2.9 million in community investments for 2020-2022 aligned with the Steps to Success. The organization and its Board of Directors recently re-committed to the funding cycle, $1.8 million of which supports programs at local nonprofits in the education-related Steps.

“Inequities in education have existed for a long time, and the pandemic has exacerbated the problem. Despite extraordinary efforts among our local teachers and administrators – as well as heroic efforts among parents – we expect the pandemic to decelerate students’ academic achievement at all levels,” said James Taylor, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg.  “At United Way, we fund and partner with local nonprofits that seek to help underserved students across the region make up for lost time and keep them from falling further behind.”

Impact in Region’s Kindergarten Readiness

Across the region, one in six students is not ready to learn and succeed when they begin kindergarten, a condition that has underlying racial disparities. White students make up 44 percent of all students and account for just 28 percent of failing students. Black and Hispanic students, on the other hand, comprise 32 percent and 13 percent of total students and represent 35 percent and 30 percent of failing students, respectively.

United Way is directing nearly $1 million to help local organizations close the preparedness gap among incoming kindergarten students. United Way also runs programs of its own, such as Kindergarten Countdown Camp, a free summer learning program for rising kindergartners with limited or no preschool experience.

Third-Grade Reading

One in four Richmond-area students is not reading proficiently by the third grade, and for those who are, research indicates that they are four times more likely to graduate high school on time. However, in high-poverty areas, only three in five third graders (61 percent) pass the reading SOL, compared to the statewide average of 75.6 percent.

To address this shortcoming, United Way is investing $600,000 during the 2020-2022 funding cycle. This money will support programs at local nonprofits, such as Literacy Lab’s tutoring program, which embeds AmeriCorps literacy tutors in high-need schools, and an intensive academic support initiative administered by the Peter-Paul Development Center.

United Way also runs volunteer opportunities to address this issue. United Way’s volunteers distribute more than 1,000 Literacy Kits, which provide students with school supplies and books to help them gain critical reading skills.

High School Graduation

In 2019, the region’s high school dropout rate was 8 percent, almost 50 percent higher than the state average of 5.6 percent. The figure reflects a 24 percent dropout rate for Richmond City Public School students during that same period.

To boost graduation rates, United Way is investing $270,000 to support organizations like Sacred Heart Center, which runs a strategic life-planning program open to Latino high school students that focuses on exploring post-secondary careers, among other initiatives.

About United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg

United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg empowers individuals and addresses systemic problems to provide everyone with a clear path to success. We do this by conducting research, funding programs and organizations, driving systems-level change and engaging with individuals in 11 localities across the region. Learn more at YourUnitedWay.org.