A new report released on Friday by the Southern Education Foundation revealed that 51 percent of America's public school children qualified for free lunch at their schools in 2013, up from 38 percent in 2000. While this data does not necessarily mean that all of those students come from low-income families, the uptick over the years is meaningful.

The report studied data from the National Center for Education Statistics, revealing that a majority of students in twenty-one states across the country are poor, most of whom live in the South. The New York Times gives one probable reason for the swift percentage uptick in students who are eligible for free lunch:

The number of children eligible for subsidized lunches has probably increased in part because the federal Agriculture Department now allows schools with a majority of low-income students to offer free lunches to all students, regardless of whether they qualify on an individual basis or not.

Still, it is clear that public schools are educating higher numbers of low-income children, and the trend has been going on for much longer than the period that started with the most recent recession.

The vice president of the Southern Education Foundation, Steve Suitts, told the Times that a larger percentage of low-income immigrant families have begun moving to areas where they've never lived before, which likely accounts for the greater percentage of free lunches offered as well. As the Times reports, these students have greater needs than students who come from wealthier families. Services that low-income students need are often missing from their underfunded schools.

The Times reports that schools in certain districts have also started serving dinner to their students:

School administrators in districts that already have a high proportion of poor students say they have to think of many services that educators in wealthier districts do not.

An increasing number of school districts now also serve dinner to students. In Cleveland, where the vast majority of the school district's 39,000 students are poor, Eric Gordon, chief executive of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, said that most schools there have regular programs to send food home with students and that the district has staff members who help homeless families find places to stay.

As Susan Dynarski wrote in The Upshot, "a child born into a poor family has only a 9 percent chance of getting a college degree, but the odds are 54 percent for a child in a high-income family."

[Image via AP]