Covering geographic locations for majority of poor children

A new study released by the Southern Education Foundation found the U.S. South and West enrolls the majority of low-income public school students in the country. The report, discussed in the Washington Post article, “Study: Poor children are now the majority in American public schools in South, West,” used the number of students in the public school system who were eligible for free and reduced-price meals in the 2010-11 school year to estimate the percentage of children from low-income families attending school in certain areas. Federal funding for public schools is a contribution of about 10 percent, the rest covered by states and local governments. This means that local governments that cannot draw as much from property taxes because they are in a poorer area give less to schools in those areas, leaving concentrated areas of poor students with fewer resources overall.

Other key findings include:

  • In 2011, to qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch meal program, run by the Department of Agriculture, a family of four could not earn more than $40,793 a year.
  • In 2011, 48 percent of the 50 million public-school students in the U.S. qualified for the meal program. In Mississippi, 71 percent of public-school students qualified.
  • Southern states have consistently been increasing in the percentage of students from low-income families, but the growth in the West began in 2011 with a spike in levels of poverty for students in California, Oregon, Nevada and New Mexico.
  • The U.S. annually spends, on average, about $10,300 per public-school student. However, this number varies in different school districts and states. In 2011, New York spent $19,076 per student and Utah spent $6,212 per student.
  • States that have the largest percentages of poor children are also the states that spend the least on each student, according to the study. Mississippi spent $7,928 per public-school student in 2011.

To turn this into a story:

  • The Southern Education Foundation report, “A New Majority: Low Income Students in the South and Nation” offers the percentage of low-income students in all public schools by state and region, as well as graphs of the changes in pupil expenditure and average reading test scores. At the end of the report, all states are listed with the percentage of low-income students in cities, suburban areas, towns and rural areas, as well as overall statistics on race.
  • Utilize the National Center for Children in Poverty’s website, specifically the rate of children in low-income families information to compare with the geographic locations offered by the Southern Education Foundation report.
  • Use CNN’s Cost of Living Calculator to determine the cost of living in your area. Compare this to your area’s average income to see if families in your community are likely to be economically stable or insecure.
  • Use the U.S. Census Bureau website to find statistics on average income in your state. Information is also available on race and average family size. These statistics may be valuable when looking at poverty levels corresponding with schools with a higher percentage of low-income students.
  • Interview members of your local government to understand the education budget, their awareness of higher rates of poor students in certain areas and any policies in place that relate to students from low-income families.
  • For helpful tutorials and tips within the Covering Poverty blog, check out the tutorial on Covering Poverty and Health, as well as multiple case studies on housing and health.

Other reporting and commentary from across the web:

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