Illinois Schools' Collective Student Body: More Diverse, More Poor

Oct 30, 2015

Students taking a test at the East Alton-Wood River High School.
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

The makeup of Illinois schools is changing. If you moved every desk, from every Illinois school, into one giant classroom, more than half of the kids in those seats would be students of color.

That's on par with national figures; last year the U.S. Department of Education signaled that minorities would outnumber whites at the nation's public schools.

The Illinois State Board of Education's survey of the racial and ethnic diversity of Illinois schools shows that Asians comprise about 5 percent, blacks 17.5 percent, and Hispanics makeup a quarter of the state's collective student body.

State Schools Superintendent Tony Smith calls it a major transition. "Understanding the data, I think, in Illinois is important for the country," he said. "We in Illinois most nearly mirror the demographics of the country. And increasingly that story is told by the transition in demographics."

Demographics also show a sobering trend: that, for the second year in a row, low income children outnumber middle class ones.

Last year, 52 percent of Illinois students came from families that receive public aid, live in substitute care, or are eligible for free or reduced school lunches. This year, that ticked up to 54 percent.