For the first time in 50 years, a majority of public school students come from low-income households, according to a new study by the Southern Education Foundation released Friday.
In 2013, 51 percent of students across the nation qualified for free or reduced-price lunches, with most of the states having a majority of low-income students found in the South and West. Thirteen of the 21 states with a majority of low-income students in 2013 were located in the South, and six of the other 21 states were in the West.
Mississippi led the nation with the highest rate: 71 percent, almost three out of every four public school children in Mississippi, were low-income. The nation’s second highest rate was found in New Mexico, where 68 percent of all public school students were low-income in 2013.
In Florida, 59 percent of public students were low-income in 2013.
“No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low-income students simply a matter of fairness,” the report said, quoting from a previous analysis. “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.”
In 1989, fewer than 32 percent of the nation’s public school students were low-income. By 2006, the national rate was 42 percent and, after the Great Recession, the rate climbed in 2011 to 48 percent, according to data analyzed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NECS). In 2012, the data revealed the rate of low-income students was barely below one-half – 49.6 percent. In 2013, the rate crossed threshold of one half with low-income students becoming the new majority in the nation’s public schools.
The report calls for fundamental improvements in how the South and the rest of the country educate low-income students, if American society in not to be negatively impacted for generations to come.
“The trends of the last decade strongly suggest that little or nothing will change for the better if schools and communities continue to postpone addressing the primary question of education in America today: what does it take and what will be done to provide low-income students with a good chance to succeed in public schools? It is a question of how, now where to improve the education of a new majority of students,” the report concludes.