A report being released today shows that a majority of public school students in the South are poor and come from minority racial groups. No, it’s not because of white flight to private schools.

The shift was fueled not by white flight from public schools, which spiked during desegregation but has not had much effect on school demographics since the early 1980s. Rather, an influx of Latinos and other ethnic groups, the return of blacks to the South and higher birth rates among black and Latino families have contributed to the change.

The new numbers, from the 2008-9 school year, are a milestone for the South, “the only section of the United States where racial slavery, white supremacy and racial segregation of schools were enforced through law and social custom,” said the report, to be released on Thursday by the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit group based here that supports education improvement in the region. But the numbers also herald the future of the country as a whole, as minority students are expected to exceed 50 percent of public school enrollment by 2020 and the share of students poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches is on the rise in every state.

The implications are obvious.


The South, desperate for a well-educated work force that can attract economic development, will face an enormous challenge in tackling on such a broad scale the lower achievement rates among poor and minority students, who score lower than average on tests and drop out more frequently than whites.

In Arkansas, the report says, 33 percent of public school students are minorities. The article notes that the state has made some strides in closing the achievement gap for poor and minority students, but it is still huge.