Free school lunches growing|
|Over half of the students in the Antigo school district qualify for subsidized meals, mirroring a statewide trend that finds more and more youngsters qualifying for the assistance.|
At Elcho, three out of every five students can get subsidized meals. The White Lake school district offers free meals to all its students, and statistically seven in 10 youngsters are eligible for the program.
According to the state Department of public Instruction, for the 2013-14 school year, 43.3 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals, up one-tenth of a percentage point from the prior school year and up 13.8 percentage points from the 2003-04 school year.
Antigo has a 55.3 percent qualifying, down 3.3 percent from 2012-13. Elcho reported 58.3 percent qualifying for the subsidy, up 1.6 percent; and White Lake, 72.5 percent, up 2.3 percent.
Most Wisconsin public school students in federal meal programs qualify for free meals based on household income. Across Wisconsin 37.3 percent of students are from families whose household income qualifies them for free meals while 6.0 percent of students are eligible for reduced-price meals.
“It’s tough for kids to concentrate on learning when they are hungry,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “The links between poverty, hunger, and lower academic achievement are well established. The National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs are one way to help students whose families struggle.”
For the 2013-14 school year, Wisconsin has 359,400 public school district students who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals out of enrollment of 829,394 in the 413 school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program. This is an increase of 625 students from last year.
There are now 117 school districts that have 50 percent or more of their students eligible for free and reduced-price school meals, including the state’s five largest districts: Milwaukee Public Schools (82 percent), Madison Metropolitan (54 percent), Kenosha
Unified (55 percent), Green Bay Area Public (58 percent), and Racine Unified (63 percent).
Students from low-income families face a number of out-of-school stressors that researchers say have a negative impact on their education. Food insecurity, not enough of and not the right kinds of food to ensure adequate nutrition, is among the top factors.
“I am so thankful for the school meal programs because they offer solid nutrition to our kids, especially to the thousands of students living in poverty,” Evers said. “We can do more. Revising the school funding system to ensure support for every student based on family income rather than property values would make a difference. I will advocate for school finance changes in my 2015-17 budget request.”
Of the 20 districts that have received no state equalization aid for the 2013-14 school year because of high property wealth, seven have free and reduced-price school meal eligibility that is above 50 percent of the schools’ enrollment. Elcho is among the list, which also includes Birchwood (62.1 percent), Drummond (54.8 percent, Linn J4 (56.9 percent), Mercer (54.7 percent), Northwood (56.5 percent), and Phelps (59.1 percent).
According to 2013-14 federal eligibility guidelines for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, school meals are free to children who live in households with annual incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty rate, or $30,615 for a family of four. Students approved for reduced-price meals have an annual household income that is under 185 percent of the federal poverty rate. For a family of four, income would be between $30,615 and $43,568 annually. Under federal law, school districts are required to identify the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals each October.
The National School Lunch Act, which authorized the National School Lunch Program, was signed into law on June 4, 1946. Though school food service began long before this time, the legislation came in response to claims that many American men had been rejected for World War II military service because of diet-related health problems. The federally assisted meal program was established as “a measure of national security.” School food service laws have been amended several times to add breakfast and other feeding programs as well as to improve the nutritional quality of federally subsidized meals.
Students enjoy lunchtime in the White Lake School cafeteria. All students in the district are provided breakfast and lunch at no cost.
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