The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

One in five U.S. schoolchildren are living below federal poverty line

More than one out of every five school-age children in the U.S. were living below the federal poverty line in 2013, according to new federal statistics released Thursday. That amounted to 10.9 million children — or 21 percent of the total — a six percent increase in the childhood poverty rate since 2000.

Childhood poverty rates were on the rise for every racial group, ranging from 39 percent for African Americans and 36 percent for Native Americans, 32 percent for Hispanics and 13 percent for Asians and whites.

The data, part of an annual report to Congress from the U.S. Department of Education, offers a snapshot of the country’s education system, including information about preschool, higher education and private K-12 school enrollment.

Read the report, mine the data

In 2013, the South had the highest rate of poverty for children ages 5 to 17, at 23 percent, followed by the West at 21 percent, the Midwest at 19 percent, and the Northeast at 18 percent. Mississippi had the highest rate (33 percent) and New Hampshire posted the lowest rate (9 percent).

The Southern Education Foundation reported in January that for the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches at school, an indicator that a growing number of students come from low-income families. The federal lunch program provides reduced-price meals for families living at 185 percent of the federal poverty line, and free lunches for those at 130 percent of the federal poverty line. In 2013, a family of four with annual household earnings of $23,550 was at the federal poverty line.

Majority of public school children now eligible for free lunch now

This year’s report included a focus on kindergarten students and found that poor children start kindergarten with fewer “positive approaches” to learning and struggle academically compared to more affluent children.

“Positive approaches” include persistence in completing tasks, eagerness to learn new things, ability to work independently, adapting easily to changes in routine, keeping belongings organized and following classroom rules.

Researchers have found that children with more “positive approaches” tend to have stronger academic skills in kindergarten and first grade.

Asian or white girls who were older than 5 1/2 when they started kindergarten got the highest ratings from their teachers for positive approaches to learning, while black and Hispanic boys got the lowest ratings.

Kindergartners from two-parent households got higher ratings than students from single-parent or other household types. And children from affluent families showed more positive approaches to learning than those who live below the poverty line, the report said.

Some other highlights of the new data include:

● The nation spent $620 billion in federal, state and local dollars on public schools in 2011-2012, compared to $553 billion in the 2001-2002 school year.

● Charter school enrollment increased from 300,000 students in 1999-2000 to 2.3 million students in 2012-2013. The proportion of public school students who attend charters increased from 0.7 percent to 4.6 percent.

● Private school enrollment for pre-k through grade 12 decreased from 6.3 million in 2001–2002 to 5.3 million in 2011-2012, accounting for 10 percent of all U.S. students.●

●From fall 2002 through fall 2012, the number of white students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools fell from 28.6 million to 25.4 million, and their share of public school enrollment decreased from 59 to 51 percent. Meanwhile, the number of Hispanic students increased from 8.6 million to 12.1 million, and their share of public school enrollment increased from 18 percent to 24 percent.

●English Language Learners made up 9.2 percent of public school students in 2012-2013, compared to 8.7 percent in 2002-2003.

●School crime has dropped significantly between 1992 — when 181 out of every 1,000 students said they were victims of a non-fatal crime at school — and 2013, when 55 out of every 1,000 students said they had been victimized.