A majority of students in public schools throughout the American South and West are low-income for the first time in at least four decades, according to a new study that details a demographic shift with broad implications for the country.
The analysis by the Southern Education Foundation, the nation’s oldest education philanthropy, is based on the number of students from preschool through 12th grade who were eligible for the federal free and reduced-price meals program in the 2010-11 school year.
The meals program run by the Department of Agriculture is a rough proxy for poverty, because a family of four could earn no more than $40,793 a year to qualify in 2011.
Children from those low-income families dominated classrooms in 13 states in the South and the four Western states with the largest populations in 2011, researchers found. A decade earlier, just four states reported poor children as a majority of the student population in their public schools.