Poor children now make up a majority of school children in South and West

More than half of students in the American South and West come from low-income homes, according to a new analysis conducted by the Southern Education Foundation, and 48 percent of students nationally qualify for federally-funded free or reduced-price meals.

Our colleague Lyndsey Layton explains:

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.

“When you break down the various test scores, you find the high-income kids, high-achievers are holding their own and more,” [Michael] Rebell [of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University] said. “It’s when you start getting down to schools with a majority of low-income kids that you get astoundingly low scores. Our real problem regarding educational outcomes is not the U.S. overall, it’s the growing low-income population.”

Southern states have seen rising numbers of poor students for the past decade, but the trend spread west in 2011, to include rapidly increasing levels of poverty among students in California, Nevada, Oregon and New Mexico.

Check out these stunning maps:


Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.

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Reid Wilson · October 17, 2013