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Study: Majority of U.S. Public School Students Are Living in Poverty

Study: Majority of U.S. Public School Students Are Poor

A new analysis of federal data finds that a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families for the first time in 50 years. Children who live in poverty are spread across the country, but are mostly concentrated in the South and West.

The Southern Education Foundation reports that "51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches," according to an article on WashingtonPost.com. "The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers."

“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. Rebell also noted 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," he continued in the article.

According to the article, "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."

“When they first come in my door in the morning, the first thing I do is an inventory of immediate needs: Did you eat? Are you clean? A big part of my job is making them feel safe,” said Sonya Romero-Smith, a veteran teacher at Lew Wallace Elementary School in Albuquerque. The article said that "fourteen of her 18 kindergartners are eligible for free lunches."

Romero-Smith, the article said, has been a teacher for 19 years, and "became a foster mother in November to two girls, sisters who attend her school. They had been homeless, their father living on the streets and their mother in jail, she said. When she brought the girls home, she was shocked by the disarray of their young lives."

“Getting rid of bedbugs, that took us a while. Night terrors, that took a little while. Hoarding food, flushing a toilet and washing hands, it took us a little while,” she said in the article. “You spend some time with little ones like this and it’s gut wrenching. . . . These kids aren’t thinking, ‘Am I going to take a test today?’ They’re thinking, ‘Am I going to be okay?’”

Read the full story and comment below. 

Article by Kassondra Granata, Education World Contributor

 

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