New Majority Report Series


A New Majority Research Bulletin: Low Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation's Public Schools

2015 - Low income students are now a majority of the schoolchildren attending the nation’s public schools, according to this research bulletin. The latest data collected from the states by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), show that 51 percent of the students across the nation’s public schools were low income in 2013.

In 40 of the 50 states, low income students comprised no less than 40 percent of all public schoolchildren. In 21 states, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were a majority of the students in 2013.

Most of the states with a majority of low income students are found in the South and the West. Thirteen of the 21 states with a majority of low income students in 2013 were located in the South, and six of the other 21 states were in the West.

Mississippi led the nation with the highest rate: ­71 percent, almost three out of every four public school children in Mississippi, were low-income. The nation’s second highest rate was found in New Mexico, where 68 percent of all public school students were low income in 2013.


This defining moment in America’s public education has been developing over several decades, and SEF has documented the trends and implications in two prior reports. In its 2013 report, SEF Vice President Steve Suitts wrote:  “No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness…  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. Without improving the educational support that the nation provides its low income students – students with the largest needs and usually with the least support -- the trends of the last decade will be prologue for a nation not at risk, but a nation in decline…"      

Download the research bulletin, map and new county-level maps.

Related Research

A New Majority Update: Low Incomes Students in the South and Nation. Southern Education Foundation. (2013).

A New Diverse Majority: Students of Color in the South's Public Schools. Southern Education Foundation. (2010).

New Diverse Majority Video. Southern Education Foundation.

A New Majority: Low Income Students in the South and Nation. Southern Education Foundation. (2007).

News Coverage

Mapped: The places where most public school children are poor. Washington Post. (May, 2015).

The Stark Inequality of U.S. Public Schools, Mapped. The Atlantic. (May, 2015).

Majority of U.S. public school students are in poverty. Washington Post. (January, 2015).

Study Finds Widespread Poverty Among U.S. Public School Children. The New York Times. (January, 2015).

More students living in poverty strains education system. PBS NewsHour. (January, 2015).

More Than Half Of American Public Schoolchildren Live In Poverty: Study. The Huffington Post. (January, 2015).

New Milestone: Majority of Public School Students Now Considered Low-Income. Education Week. (January, 2015).

Suggested Citation

Suitts, Steve. A New Majority Research Bulletin: Low Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation's Public Schools. Southern Education Foundation. (2015).

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