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Southern States Must Fix 'Infrastructure of Opportunity' in K-12, Report Says

A new report on educational attainment and achievement among 15- to 24-year-olds in the South argues that the region needs to build a new "infrastructure of opportunity" that includes stronger middle schools, a new "meld" of high schools and community colleges, and enhanced pre-kindergarten programs.

"State of the South: Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity for the Next Generation" from MDC, a non-profit in Durham, N.C., originally known as Manpower Development Corporation, ties many of the challenges facing the South's young people to the two recessions of the previous decade.

The report, which covers 13 states, also highlights how that generation of Southerners presents a different demographic and cultural profile than previous generations; for example, of those ages 75 and older, 78 percent are white, but among those ages 15 to 24, only 50 percent are white.

The MDC report also highlights case studies of how communities in the South are tackling challenges related to education. For example, it examines how a new community partnership in Brownsville, Texas (where over a third of its 180,000 residents live below the poverty line) released data trends for the city that included completion rates of Algebra I classes as a key indicator for college readiness, among other factors.

Through community partnerships and targeted interventions in public schools and elsewhere, MDC notes that from 2008 to 2014, the share of Brownsville high school seniors applying to college rose from less than half to 100 percent. 

But there are several interesting education-related data in the MDC study looking at the South as a whole. Among them:

• From fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2014, per-student spending fell in all 13 states studied by MDC, except for Tennessee. (That's based on last year's report on state K-12 spending from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities—I highlighted CBPP's 2015 report earlier this month.) 

• In every state studied except Virginia, at least half of K-12 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, according to the Southern Education Foundation. 

• In most of the states, fewer than 20 out of 100 students who enter the 9th grade will obtain an associate or bachelor's degree within three to six years, assuming they graduate from high school. What happens to the rest of those 9th graders? The MDC chart below has the numbers:  

SouthernEdAttainment.PNGThere are several other case studies of Southern cities tackling K-12 challenges and issues related to public schools in MDC's study, which you can read in full below:

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