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on Leading the Next Generation


What to Do About the Rise in Impoverished Students

A new study by the Southern Education Foundation has revealed that the number of low-income students enrolled in schools across the United States has surged in recent years to new astronomical numbers.

students in classroom

According to the study, 17 of the 50 states in the country can say that at least half of their students come from households with incomes at or below the poverty line.

The results of the foundation’s research suggest that schoolchildren in large parts of the US are coming from less-fortunate backgrounds at numbers not seen in decades. In fact, pollsters determined that the last time a majority of children in public schools in the South and West were at or below the poverty line occurred in the 1960s.

In Mississippi, 71 percent of public schoolchildren were placed into the low-income category. New Mexico and Louisiana come next and round out the top three states, while the next 17 locales were each listed as having more than half of their students classified as low-income. This includes Florida and California, who placed their numbers at 56% and 54%, respectively.

Taking into account the whole US, the foundation said that 48 percent of all public school children came from homes with incomes low enough to earn those students free or reduced lunches.  They based their data on statistics pertaining to the number of children in Preschool through Grade 12 who were eligible for the federal meals program in the 2010-11 school year.

The rate of low income students in the South was 53 percent,” the study’s authors wrote, and “for the first time in recent history, at least half of the public school students in the West were low income.”

The foundation predicts that within the next few years, “low income students will become a majority of all public school children in the United States.”

What’s the best solution here?

I don’t believe there are any easy answers, but I have decided to do something about this at Growing Leaders. Because we believe poverty in kids is not because those students are intellectually disqualified, but often under-privileged—we decided to launch a foundation to raise money and offer Habitudes—Images that Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes to under-funded schools. We believe the life and leadership skills contained in Habitudes can enable impoverished students to think bigger and explore opportunities beyond their current reality. I’m excited, as we’ve already trained faculty and given Habitudes to ten under-privileged schools who are benefiting from them. Stories are coming in on how they’re changing the way kids think and act. We know it’s not the only solution, but it is one solution. We want to break the cycle of poverty through “teaching kids to fish,” not merely “giving them a fish.”

Click here to read more about The Growing Leaders Foundation.

Here’s to ending the affects of poverty on kids, one school at a time.


The Growing Leaders Foundation

Help break financial barriers so that all students can be college and career ready.



  1. charlene.fonseca on January 28, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Awesome step, Tim! I just ordered my first Habitudes last night and will digest the concepts, hoping to turn it around for some young people that will be placed in my life.

    • Tim Elmore on January 30, 2014 at 11:15 am

      Thanks, Charlene! I love your passion for the next generation. Keep up the great work!

  2. Walter Zimmerman on January 28, 2014 at 9:24 am

    The number of students from less fortunate backgrounds
    will increase proportionate to the increase rise of poverty in the U.S. At the
    risk of contradicting opinions of well-informed individuals like yourself, I
    believe that the solution for impoverished students is a simple one: quit
    giving performance bonuses to college and education administrators. Colleges should, perhaps, be using profits and revenue not for patting someone on the wallet for meeting the expectations of the job they were hired to do, but for creating local school district programs that motivate students to learn (learning being a change of behavior resulting from their application of new knowledge) and creating opportunities for students to personally
    experience the rewards of education and hard work. If I may lean upon the fish metaphor, colleges should be in the public schools exposing students to the taste of the available fish (field trips to mansions, art museums, 5 star restaurants, banks, and workplaces) available before teaching them about the various fishing poles (education/behavioral requirements and daily work
    expectations). Colleges reinvesting the money into public school activities will create opportunities for students to visualize their concept of personal growth and motivate students to emulate success, which in turn leads to college enrollment. Creating visions for success and emulating successful habits are the first steps for personal/professional growth and replacing poverty.

    While I agree that instructional styles and curriculum development philosophies are drastically different in colleges than
    public schools, I wouldn’t consider colleges and public schools apples and
    oranges. I would classify them as apples seeds and apples. Public schools are the seeds for increased college enrollment, student completion, and
    personal success after H.S. and/or college graduation. My philosophy is an
    untried philosophy and I gratefully yield to the practical experiences of those
    who have more know.

    Thank you for your work with Habitudes and the impact you are having on local schools and students. America really needs it.

    • Tim Elmore on January 30, 2014 at 11:25 am

      Thank you for sharing, Walter. You bring up some great points for a discussion that could be several articles long :).

      I recently discussed merit pay and college presidents in this article –

      I love your passion for improving our education system! I hope you are involved with your local school district.

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What to Do About the Rise in Impoverished Students