A new report by the Southern Education Foundation has discovered that the number of children who attend public school and also qualify for free or reduced price lunches has risen to 51%, a good indicator that poverty is on the rise.
The report found the problem to be the worst in Mississippi, where 71% of students were found to be in that category.
"No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness," the report says. "â¦ Their success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future."
Researchers looked at 2013 federal data from the National Center for Education Statistics on children who qualify for the lunch program. The program is open to families at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. A family of four is said to be at the poverty level making less than $24,000 per year, and so would qualify for the lunch program at 185% of that figure, or $44,000.
According to the foundation, the number of children living in poverty has been on the rise for decades. It referred to the rising poverty level as a "defining moment in America's public education." The foundation went on to say that poor children have more needs and therefore require more support than what is currently being offered.
"The fact is, we've had growing inequality in the country for many years," said Kent McGuire, president of the Southern Education Foundation. "It didn't happen overnight, but it's steadily been happening. Government used to be a source of leadership and innovation around issues of economic prosperity and upward mobility. Now we're a country disinclined to invest in our young people."
The foundation had previously released a report on the subject in 2013, finding that 48% of students in the US were from low-income families. The foundation's report from 2000 found 40% of students fell into the same category. The rate has been on the rise since 1989, when it sat at 32%, reports Rebecca Klein for The Huffington Post.
For multiple years now the foundations' report has found the highest level of poverty in the South and the West. For example, in 2013 California had 55% of its students qualify for free or reduced price lunches. At the same time, New Hampshire had the lowest rate with 27%.
The foundation has historically advocated for educational equality for students in Southern states.