There’s a slow wave hitting Minnesota’s schools. Gradual, but inexorable, the share of our students coming from lower income backgrounds is growing. This has major repercussions for our schools and is something we need to do a better job preparing for and responding to.
(Data from Minnesota Department of Education)
This shows the slowly growing share of Minnesota’s student population that receives free or reduced price lunch through the National School Lunch program. While the growth has been slow, it has been fairly consistent, and the bulk of the growth is students receiving free lunch (i.e. students worse off than those receiving reduced price lunch).
There’s a small spike after the Great Recession hit, but even before then Minnesota’s schools saw a slow but continuous increase in the percentage of students in poverty. This doesn’t appear directly connected to separate trends in overall student enrollment, which has dipped and recovered somewhat during the same time period. At this rate, we’re likely to break 40% of students in poverty around the 2014-15 school year. That’s two years away.
What does this mean for Minnesota’s schools? We know that socioeconomic status is the single largest factor affecting student performance. This is tied to many things—early childhood experiences, summer learning opportunities, access to health care, life stress, and others—that can accelerate or interfere with the learning opportunities provided in the traditional K-12 school system.
If we want to avoid future losses in Minnesota’s overall academic performance, we need to take steps to respond to and eventually reverse this trend. That means investing in high-quality early childhood programs, using schools as points of delivery for health care and other social services to low-income families, and trying to stabilize the composition, quality, and workplaces of our teaching corps.
Minnesota’s situation is not yet as desperate as many other states, and progressives should lead the charge to keep us off this path.