Majority of U.S. public school students living in poverty

According to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, poverty among public school students is on the rise, and the majority of U.S. students in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade now come from low-income families.

This has been an increasing statistic over the last few years, but the 2012-2013 school year was the first time in 50 years that a majority of students came from low-income families. Although poor students are spread across the U.S., the highest numbers can be seen in the southern and western states. Mississippi tops the list with 71% of its students living in poverty.

A population with a majority of poor students brings new challenges to public schools across the country. The gap between socio-economic classes has been growing in America, and many teachers believe this gap will be reflected in the success of their students.

Students coming from low-income families are already at a disadvantage in terms of the resources available to them and their exposure to positive activities outside of school. These children are more likely to drop out of school and less likes to attend college, leaving many teachers worried that the trend of not completing school will rise with the growing number of poor students. Public schools are already under pressure to meet certain standards, and the growing inequality will make it difficult for poor students to meet the same standards as their more privileged peers.

“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 teacher at Lew Wallace Elementary School in Albuquerque, to The Washington Post.

Romero-Smith and other public school teachers have begun to take on more roles that just that of a teacher; many also consider themselves to be counselors, therapists, or parental-figures in the lives of their students. Romero-Smith takes it upon herself to provide food to her students and assist them in maintaining personal hygiene. She keeps extra socks, underwear, pants, and shoes stocked in her classroom.

The Obama Administration is pushing Congress to increase its spending on the education of poor children by $1 billion, but as of now, the 22 states reporting the highest levels of student poverty are spending less than the national average of $10,938 per student.

Congress is currently debating whether or not to rewrite the federal education law No Child Left Behind, which may bring some positive change to the situation of poor students.

Photo: mr-morrison via Flickr

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