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STUDY: Low-income students in households making less than $28K annually now a majority in the nation’s public schools

Low-income students — those living in a single-parent household earning less than $28,000 a year — are now a majority of the schoolchildren attending the nation’s public schools, according to new analysis of state data compiled and analyzed in a January, 2015, report from the Southern Education Research Foundation.  The January, 2015,  report is based on data available from the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). It shows that, as of 2013, 51 percent of the students across the nation’s public schools were low income in 2013.

“In 40 of the 50 states, low-income students comprised no less than 40 percent of all public schoolchildren. In 21 states, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were a majority of the students in 2013,” says a report on the NCES-collected data in the study written by the Southern Education Foundation. 

A Washington Post article written by Lindsey Layton covered the Southern Education Research Foundation report. Layton wrote: “The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.”

Education is portrayed as the most effective weapon in the fight against inequality. The article quotes Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation voicing his concern:

“Even at 8 or 9 years old, I knew that America wanted me to succeed,” he said. “What we know is that the mobility escalator has simply stopped for some Americans. I was able to ride that mobility escalator in part because there were so many people, and parts of our society, cheering me on . . . we need to fix the escalator. We fix it by recommitting ourselves to the idea of public education. We have the capacity. The question is, do we have the will?”

What is low income? The SERF report used eligibility for free or reduced lunch to define low income.  The researchers wrote that: “Students are eligible for free meals at public schools if they live in households where the income is no more than 135 percent of the poverty threshold. They are eligible for reduced-price lunches if their household income is no more than 185 percent. In 2013, for example, a student in a household with a single parent with an annual income of less than $19,669 was eligible for a free lunch or less than $27,991 for a reduced-price meal in a public school.”

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