For the first time since the mid-1960s, a majority of public school children in the United States lives in poverty. An new analysis of federal student data from 2013 found that 51 percent of all U.S. school children qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunches, eligibility for which is determined by family income.
Michael A. Rebell, the executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University, told the Washington Post that analysts knew the poverty trend was rising. What they didn't expect was for it to happen so soon.
Child poverty is found all over the U.S., but the highest rates are concentrated in the South and West, according to the Southern Education Foundation, an education philanthropy group. High populations of low-income students makes schools' ability to close the achievement gap between middle- and low-income students even more difficult.
"More than half of the children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home to succeed, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college," Lyndsey Layton writes in the Post.
The report questions whether enough money is being spent on public education and whether what is being spent is being allocated in a way that addresses the complex needs of poor children.
States with high poverty rates, such as Arizona, tend to spend less per pupil than states. Vermont, which spends the most (at $19,752 per pupil), has a relatively low student-poverty rate: 36 percent. Arizona, on the other hand, spends only $6,949 per student, the least in the nation. That state's student-poverty rate hit the majority 51 percent mark in 2013.
Among the efforts to assist kids living below the poverty line, some districts are serving a third free meal a day: supper. Some 13 states and the District of Columbia used federal funds to be able to offer students an evening meal. Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the nation, announced recently it would increase the number of free suppers served. That district's program currently offers night meals to 75,000 students. The district will more than double that number to 150,000 over the next two years.