A new analysis from the Southern Education Foundation has unveiled a shocking statistic: More than half of schoolchildren in the U.S. public school system are living in poverty.
The foundation, which works to “advance equity and excellence in education for all students in the South,” analyzed data from the National Center for Education on Statistics, focusing on students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Students who are eligible for such services are from low-income families, the SEF says, and as such, serve as a proxy for measuring poverty within the public school system.
Overall, an astounding 51 percent of American schoolchildren came from low-income households in 2013. The report shows that the number of schoolchildren from low-income households has grown steadily for almost 25 years, up from 32 percent in 1989.
“By 2006, the national rate was 42 percent and, after the Great Recession, the rate climbed in 2011 to 48 percent,” the report claims.
Kent McGuire, who is the president of the Southern Education Foundation, believes that the foundation’s analysis shows poverty has reached a “watershed moment.”
“The fact is, we’ve had growing inequality in the country for many years,” McGuire said. “It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s steadily been happening. Government used to be a source of leadership and innovation around issues of economic prosperity and upward mobility. Now we’re a country disinclined to invest in our young people.”
Although the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches is a fairly rough proxy, the growing trend of students living in poverty has been noted by educators, public officials and researchers alike for some time.
“We’ve all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it’s here sooner rather than later,” said Michael A. Rebell of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University, in an interview with the Washington Post.
He added that the poverty rate has been increasing, even as the economy has improved.
“A lot of people at the top are doing much better, but the people at the bottom are not doing better at all. Those are the people who have the most children and send their children to public school.”
The analysis shows the highest percentages of poor students in Southern and Western states. Mississippi had the highest rate of low-income students at an astonishing 71 percent. New Hampshire had the lowest rate of low-income students, at 27 percent.
“No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness,” the report says. “… Their success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future.”
For more on the struggles children living in poverty face in getting a quality education, click here.
[Images via metrotrends.org and the Huffington Post]