Majority of Public School Children in U.S. Qualify for Free or Reduced-Price Lunches

Monday, January 19, 2015
(AP Photo)

More than half of U.S. public school students now qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, according to a new study by the Southern Education Foundation.


Children can get a free lunch through the National School Lunch Program if their family is at or below 130% of the federal poverty rate. They get reduced-price lunches, costing no more than 40 cents, if their family income is between 130% and 185% of the poverty rate. In addition, those districts with a majority of students who qualify for free lunches can give all students a free lunch.


In 2013, 51% of children qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. That’s up from 38% in 2000.


Mississippi leads the nation with 71% of its children eligible for the school lunch program. The states where the majority of children are eligible are concentrated in the south and the west. Only 27% of those students in New Hampshire are eligible.


More school districts are grappling with the challenges of educating poorer students, according to the foundation. “We in no way are providing schools and teachers in schools with what it takes to educate low-income students today, as they continue to become a huge part of the school population,” Steve Suitts, vice president of the Southern Education Foundation, told The New York Times.


Some districts are even providing dinners for their students. Most schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District have programs to send food home with students. The district also has staff members to help homeless students find shelter.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Percentage of Poor Students in Public Schools Rises (by Motoko Rich, New York Times)

National School Lunch Program (pdf)

Republicans in Congress Fight to Keep White Bread and Extra Salt in School Lunches (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Utah School Grabs Lunches from Children in Debt (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Report Says Schools Are Stealing Meal Money from Poor Kids (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)


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