More than half of children attending U.S. public schools come from low-income families, qualifying them for a free or reduced-price school lunch, a new report reveals.
The number of low-income schoolchildren has been steadily rising, going from 42% in 2006 to 49.6% in 2012. But 2013 marked the first year in recent history that a majority of schoolchildren – 51% – were low-income, according to the report from the Southern Education Foundation, drawing on state-level data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
“No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness,” the report stated. “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.”
The number of low-income students were concentrated in the South and West: Mississippi had the highest proportion of low-income students, at 71%, followed by New Mexico and Louisiana, according to the report. New Hampshire had the lowest proportion of low-income students at 27%.
Not all the children that the report classifies as low-income are under the federal poverty line, however. The report defines low-income students as those eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch, which are available for families up to 130% and 185% of the federal poverty line, respectively. For the 2013-14 school year, families of four making up to $43,568 per year were eligible for reduced-price meals, according to federal guidelines, while those with incomes up to $30,615 were eligible for free school lunch.