A new report by the Southern Education Foundation
reveals something that probably won’t surprise many public school teachers and staff: more than half of America's school children — 51 percent — come from poor households. The figure is the highest it’s been in nearly 50 years, marking a 30-year trend in the country’s growing rate of income inequality.
Researchers analyzed data from 2013 for prekindergarten through 12th grade and found that just under half of New York’s students, 48 percent, come from poor households, according to the report. But in many high-population- growth Southern and Western states, the numbers climb considerably. Texas and Georgia, for example, each have 60 percent of their students coming from poor households. In Louisiana, it’s 65 percent, and in New Mexico it’s 68 percent.
The ramifications of growing student poverty are enormous.
For instance, locally, about 80 percent of Rochester’s students meet the eligibility requirements for free and reduced meals, a widely used indicator of student poverty. That makes the Rochester City School District one of the largest daily meal providers in Monroe County. Should this be an expectation of a 21st century public school system?
And some veteran city teachers will tell you that schools are increasingly a primary resource for students’ physical and mental health concerns.
The Southern Education Foundation report is one of several that the organization has published. SEF Vice President Steve Suitts wrote in an earlier report, “No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low-income students simply a matter of fairness.”
And he warned that if the nation doesn’t improve its support for students with the greatest needs, it will shift from a nation at risk to a nation in decline.