The analysis by the Southern Education Foundation, an educational philanthropy with headquarters in Atlanta, noted children in preschool through 12th grade eligible for free and reduced-priced meals at school, an indicator of poverty, dominated classrooms in 13 southern states and the four western states with the largest populations in 2011, The Washington Post reported Friday.
A decade earlier, only four states reported poor children as the majority of the student population of their public schools.
In 2011 nearly half the nation's public school students qualified for free or reduced-price meals, the analysis said.
"This is incredible," commented Michael A. Rebell, executive director of Columbia University's Campaign for Educational Equity. "Our real problem regarding educational outcomes is not the United States overall, it's the growing low-income population."
While southern states have seen rising levels of poor children in public schools, the trend has spread west, the analysis said.
The 2008 recession, immigration and a high birthrate among low-income families has fueled the changes, study author Steve Suitts said, noting schools must adapt to the change.
"We have an educational system that continues to assume that most of our students are middle class and have independent resources outside the schools to support their education. We simply have to reshape our educational system," Suitts said.
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