With nearly three out of four public school children in Mississippi living in poverty, according to a report from the Southern Education Foundation, now is the time to invest more in our schools to ensure that children have the skills and education needed to build better lives for themselves.
Poverty in our schools is not just about statistics. It’s about children coming to school unable to concentrate because their families can’t afford to give them a good breakfast. Poverty is families that can’t purchase basic school supplies or a student’s inability to participate in after school programs because of the cost.
With education as one of the most reliable paths out of poverty, we must ensure that our schools are equipped to help children overcome this tremendous obstacle and achieve their full potential. Unfortunately, we are failing at this essential mission in Mississippi.
Schools in impoverished communities need more resources to ensure students don’t permanently fall behind. By age four, toddlers in low-income households have been exposed to approximately 30 million fewer words than those in higher-income families. As a result, children from lower income families are more likely to have smaller vocabularies and struggle with reading. Schools in high-poverty communities are forced to try and bridge this gap, but research has shown that it often persists and becomes more pronounced as students progress through the education system. More resources for our schools would mean fewer kids falling behind and more opportunities for children to break the cycle of poverty.
High poverty also leads to unique health and behavioral challenges that could be helped by more investment in our schools. Many of our poor children grow up in communities especially hard-hit by persistent poverty – areas that have experienced poverty rates above 20 percent for over 30 years. Living in such high-poverty communities causes stress in a child’s life, which can lead to behavioral and health problems. This added dimension of poverty often place teachers and school districts in the difficult position of taking on roles such as social worker or psychologist. With more resources, our schools can make sure more children are ready to learn and fewer are struggling because of their home lives.
The best way to tackle poverty is often debated, but these children are real and their stories are real. Each day we wait to take action is another day that nearly three fourths of our public schools children are suffering. We know education can play a key role in giving children an opportunity to build a good life and that’s why it’s time to invest in our schools.