Fewer eating discounted or free meals in District 51
The portion of District 51 students receiving free or reduced-price school meals dropped for the third consecutive year in 2013-14, but the district remains above the state average.
According to student information collected in October and released by the Colorado Department of Education this week, 42.3 percent of District 51 pre-school through 12th-grade students qualified for free or reduced-price school breakfast and lunch in 2013-14. That’s down from 44.45 percent during the previous annual count of free and reduced-price meal students in October 2012.
Statewide, 41.94 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price meals in fall 2013.
The reason why 333 fewer District 51 students qualified for free school meals and 64 fewer students qualified for reduced-price meals is likely linked to a change in the first day of school, according to District 51 Nutrition Services Director Dan Sharp. For the first 30 school days of any school year, districts can continue to provide free or reduced-price meals to students who got them the previous school year even if their parents have not yet filled out an application for the meals for the current school year. All parents seeking free or reduced-price school meals must fill out the forms every year for every student who will get the meals.
In years past, the 30-day deadline came after the annual October student count. This year, with school starting a week early, the 30-day deadline hit on Sept. 24, knocking some students off the free and reduced list if their parents did not apply or qualify for the meals this school year. The portion of students still on the list has remained steady since October and currently sits at 42.6 percent of the student population.
“I can only guess but when you have that carry-over every year, it could be an artificial 2 percent that gets carried over every year,” Sharp said, adding he thinks 42 to 43 percent “is probably where we’ll hover now.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program reimburses school districts for free and reduced-price meals. Qualification for the program is determined by income. In Colorado, a household of one can make no more than $14,937 a year in order to qualify for free meals. The threshold increases by $5,226 for each additional household member. The income threshold for reduced-price meals is $21,257 a year for one person and increases by $7,437 for each additional member of the household.
A family of four, for example, must make no more than $30,615 annually to qualify for free meals and no more than $43,568 a year to qualify children for reduced-price meals.