45% receive free, discount school meals

School District 51 crept closer this year to having half of its students on free or reduced meal plans.

This fall, 45.5 percent of District 51 kindergarten through 12th-grade students received free or reduced-price meals at school. That’s a half percent increase from the previous fall, according to data released this week by the Colorado Department of Education.

The percentage of students receiving free or reduced breakfasts and lunches also increased year-over-year at the state level, increasing 1.4 percentage point to 40.3 percent.

Schools in the western half of the Grand Valley, although they still have some of the district’s lowest numbers of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, experienced more increases this year than the eastern and southern part of the valley. District 51 Food Service Director Dan Sharp said that’s likely a reflection of the poor local job situation affecting everyone.

“We’re seeing percentages increase across the board, not just in lower socioeconomic sections of the community,” Sharp said.

“It correlates to how things are going in the economy locally and the fact that we’re still hovering at 9.5 to 10 percent unemployment.”

Sharp said he believes more students this year than last year applied for free and reduced meals for the first time. But he said he is sure the number of people eligible for free or reduced meals remains higher than the number of people accepting them. He said he wasn’t surprised to see free and reduced meal numbers increase slightly this year, but he hopes to see a dip next year.

“I think we’re at the bottom end of the business cycle. I hope things will turn around this year,” he said.

Students can apply year-round for free or reduced meals and reapply if a family’s income situation changes during the year, Sharp said.

Clifton and Dos Rios elementary schools had the highest free and reduced meal rates in the district, 81.5 and 80.9 percent, respectively.

Both schools had fewer students enrolled in the program this year than last year, but lost enough students overall to have their rates increase by 8 and 1.4 percent, respectively.

Of the 10 schools with the highest free and reduced rates, five decreased their rate year-over-year. Just three of the 10 schools with the lowest rates decreased theirs.

Mesa Valley Vision School, a home-school program, and New Emerson Elementary School had the lowest rates in the district at 1.2 and 11.3 percent, respectively.

One-hundred-forty-four more students or their parents signed up for free or reduced-cost meals in 2010–11 than in 2009–10.

Total District 51 enrollment increased by 83 students to 21,455 K-12 students in October 2010 compared with a year before. With preschoolers factored in, 22,091 students were counted in the district in October, an increase of 61 students year-over-year, according to the Colorado Department of Education.


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