School-Age Children:

Poverty and Diversity Challenge Schools Nationwide

HEHS-94-132: Published: Apr 29, 1994. Publicly Released: May 4, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed how the increasing population of school-age children of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds living in poverty affects schools, focusing on the changes in demographic characteristics of school-age children between 1980 and 1990.

GAO found that: (1) between 1980 and 1990, the numbers of poor school-age children increased by more than 400,000, to 7.6 million, while the total school-age population decreased by 5 percent; (2) since 1990, the total school-age population and the numbers of poor children have increased; (3) most of the poor school-age children lived in large urban or rural areas in the East and South, but the West and Southwest had the greatest increase in poor school-age children; (4) between 1980 and 1990, school-age children became more racially and ethnically diverse with poor children exhibiting the greatest changes in diversity; (5) the numbers of children from immigrant households who had low English proficiency also increased dramatically; (6) although populations of at-risk children lived throughout the country, significant numbers of at-risk children were concentrated in a few states; (7) the problems facing schools in all geographic areas from the increasing numbers of poor and at-risk children include meeting the needs of children who change schools frequently, are potential low achievers, have other difficulties such as health and nutrition, and have low English-proficiency; and (8) the needs of poor and at-risk children will place a greater demand on federal programs at a time of greater budget constraints.

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