THE BLOG
01/22/2015 10:48 am ET Updated Mar 24, 2015

More Than Half of U.S. Public School Students Live in Poverty

According to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, the majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families despite the improving economy.

The Southern Education Foundation reports that for the first time in at least 50 years, 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches during the 2012-2013 school year.

Data shows poor students are spread across the country but concentrated in Southern and Western states. Half of the children who attend public schools in 21 states were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches -- including in my home state of Mississippi, where more than 70 percent of students were from low-income families.

The surge in the number of disadvantaged children in the nation's public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has triggered awareness among researchers, public officials and educators.
As a result of the shift to a majority-poor student population, more children than ever now start kindergarten noticeably lagging behind their privileged public school peers -- and rarely do these students catch up.

In addition, education policy, funding decisions and classroom instruction must adapt to the needy children who arrive daily in schools.

The Obama administration wants Congress to add $1 billion to the $14.4 billion it spends annually to help states educate less fortunate children. It also wants Congress to fund preschool for children from low-income families.

I find this news profoundly disturbing. We need to make sure all kids can get the meaningful education that they deserve. Students need high-quality teachers, and they need current equipment at their fingertips to optimize learning. They need the opportunity to enjoy enriching activities, they need parental involvement, and they need early childhood education. These things are all imperative to the well-being of our nation's children, and I am saddened that so many children aren't fortunate enough to have these experiences.