A new study by the Southern Education Foundation has revealed that the number of low income students enrolled in schools across the United States has surged in recent years to new astronomical numbers.
According to the study, 17 of the 50 states in the country can say that at least half of their students come from households with incomes at or below the poverty line.
The results of the foundation’s research suggest schoolchildren in large parts of the US are coming from less-fortunate backgrounds at numbers not seen in decades. The last time a majority of children in public schools in the South and West placed under or at the poverty line, pollsters determined, occurred in the 1960s.
In Mississippi, 71 percent of public schoolchildren placed into the low income category. New Mexico and Louisiana rounded out the top-three states with regards to low income majorities, and the 17 locales listed with as having more than half of their students included states such as Florida and California, with 56 and 54 percent of its public school students, respectively, considered low income.
Taking into account the whole US, the foundation said 48 percent of all public school children came from homes with incomes low enough to earn those students free or reduced lunches. They based their data on statistics pertaining to the number of children in grade preschool through 12 who were eligible for the federal meals program in the 2010-11 school year.
“The rate of low income students in the South was 53 percent,” the study’s authors wrote, and “for the first time in recent history, at least half of the public school students in the West were low income.”
The foundation predicts that within the next few years, “low income students will become a majority of all public school children in the United States.”
“With huge stubborn unchanging gaps in learning, schools in the south and across the nation face the real danger of becoming entrenched, inadequately funded educational systems that enlarge the division in America between the haves and the have-nots and endanger the entire nation’s prospects,” Southern Education Foundation Vice President Steve Suitts wrote in the report.
Sadly, Suitts doesn’t see much changing, either. “There is no real evidence that any scheme or policy of transferring large numbers of low income students from public schools to private schools will have a positive impact on this problem,” he wrote. “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, not where, to improve the education of a new majority of students.”
“Without fundamental improvements in how the South and the nation educate low income students, the trends that this report documents will ricochet across all aspects of American society for generations to come,” he wrote.
Michael Rebell, the executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University, described the findings to the Washington Post as “incredible.”
"When you break down the various test scores, you find the high-income kids, high-achievers are holding their own and more," Rebell said. "It's when you start getting down to schools with a majority of low-income kids that you get astoundingly low scores. Our real problem regarding educational outcomes is not the US overall, it's the growing low-income population."
The US Census Bureau determined that 46.5 million people lived in poverty across America in 2012, or around 15 percent of the population. The same statistics determined that roughly 21 percent of school children in the US were impoverished as of last year.