Free, reduced lunch rates steady in D51

The percentage of School District 51 students who received free or reduced-price lunches at school remained stable in 2012-13 despite a slight year-over-year dip in enrollment.

As of October, 45.2 percent of District 51 kindergarten through 12th-grade students qualified for free or reduced-price meals, according to the Colorado Department of Education. That’s an increase of 0.04 percentage points compared to October 2011.

Breaking the percentage down, though, shows more local families who qualify for the National School Lunch Program are in greater financial need this school year. The portion of students who qualify for free lunch by having a household income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level shifted up 1.5 percentage points to 37.2 percent in 2012 compared to 2011. The portion of students who qualify for reduced-price lunch by having a household income between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty level dipped 1.5 percent year-over-year to just under 8 percent.

The change amounts to 254 more students on free lunch and 334 fewer students getting reduced-price lunches. That’s not much of a difference in a district where 9.531 students qualify for free or reduced lunches, according to District 51 Nutrition Services Director Dan Sharp. The bigger news this year, he said, is the way parents applied for free or reduced-price lunches. Sharp estimated 70 percent of parents who applied for free or reduced-price meals used the district’s new online application system rather than submitting a paper application.

The online application is more accurate and easier to process, Sharp said, because the online software does not allow parents to submit an incomplete application.

“In the past, we typically had an error rate of 50 percent,” Sharp said. With the online system, “We went from having to use four to five people for a month and a half in the office to having to use one.”

The majority of free and reduced-price lunch applications are accepted before Oct. 1 each school year but the applications are available year-round. The applications qualify students for both school lunches and breakfasts.

New legislation in Colorado, House Bill 1006, aims to expand school breakfast programs by requiring schools where 70 percent of students or more qualify for free or reduced-price meals to provide breakfast some time after class starts, a practice already adopted at Central and Palisade high schools. The bill passed in the House Education Committee and is headed to the House Appropriations Committee.

The bill, if made law, would impact five District 51 elementary schools that already offer free breakfast to all students: Chipeta, Clifton, Dos Rios, Nisley and Rocky Mountain. Breakfast participation at those five schools currently ranges from 31 percent at Nisley to 57.6 percent at Chipeta.

“The more kids we can feed after the bell when we have a captive audience, the higher student achievement we’ll have,” Sharp said.


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