We know from research that our students need every advantage during their educational opportunities in order to compete with their international peers in the global economy. Recent studies show that American students are not keeping up with their international peers. A September 2011 announcement of the World Economic Forum highlighted the weakening of U.S. productivity and global competitiveness from first in 2008 down to a current ranking of fifth. The SAT college-entrance exam, which is taken by about 1.6 million students, also showed that national average scores have fallen for yet another year, with only 43 percent of students scoring high enough to indicate they were ready to succeed in college and the workplace.
Homeless, low-income, and under-employed families often struggle to afford the school supplies and learning activities their children need to gain the most from the educational opportunities they have at school and extra-curricular programs. Hurricanes, flooding, and other natural disaster incidents also impact on families' abilities to provide for educational needs. For example, the recent destruction caused by Hurricane Irene has left many families with their school supplies ruined or damaged by flooding. And due to the financial costs of recovery, replacement of such supplies is difficult even if they can find the needed supplies as local stores also had their stock ruined or damaged.
Since the recession that began in 2007/2008, many more families have found it difficult to make ends meet. The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that one in six families is now living below the poverty line, which means they have difficulty providing basic needs like food, clothing and shelter, let alone any extras that might be needed for the schooling or learning activities. The unemployment rate remains higher than previous generations at around 9% nationally, but if you factor in those who are underemployed (employed, but earning below what their family needs to get by) that figure goes up to 16.2% nationally, with some areas of the country as high as 25% unemployment/underemployment (according to 2011 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
While many organizations in the community are working to assist needy families with school supplies and learning activities, often the need outweighs the resources available. For example, Jeffco Action Center in Lakewood, Colorado, provided over 4,000 children in Jefferson County, Colorado with needed school supplies in 2010 from its school supply drive, but has indicated it was not able to meet all of those who were eligible for its program.
FELAE is working to help rectify these situations by partnering with local organizations to ensure students have what they need to succeed.