The percentage of public school students eligible for free or reduced-price school meals rose to 43.2 percent for the current school year, up 0.7 percent from last school year.
The percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-rate lunch increased for the ninth consecutive year.
About half of the school districts in Southwest Wisconsin — including the Platteville, Belmont and Potosi school districts — saw a decrease in the percentage of students eligible for free- or reduced-rate lunches.
“As a measure of childhood poverty, school meal eligibility shows the impact of Wisconsin’s sluggish economy on school-age families,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers. “Offering school meals through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs is one way to impact the negative effects of poverty and combat hunger in our schools.”
Across Wisconsin, 36.9 percent of public school students are from families who on average have income that is less than $30,000 per year, thus qualifying the students for free school meals. Another 6.3 percent of students are eligible for reduced-price meals.
The Platteville School District has 36 percent of its students eligible, down 1.2 percent and the second lowest rate among Southwest Wisconsin Conference schools. The Potosi School District has 33.9 percent of its students eligible, down 1 percent from last school year. The Belmont Community School District has 34.3 percent of its students eligible, up 2.1 percent from last school year.
Iowa–Grant’s percentage increased from 41.1 percent to 42.6 percent this school year.
For the 2012–13 school year, Wisconsin has 358,775 public school district students who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals out of 829,631 enrolled students in the 414 districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program. This is an increase of 5,420 students eligible for subsidized meals this school year compared to last.
There are now 110 school districts that have 50 percent or more of their students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, including the state’s five largest districts — Milwaukee Public Schools, Madison Metropolitan, Kenosha, Green Bay Area, and Racine — and the Prairie du Chien, Richland, Boscobel and Riverdale school districts.
According to 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 $29,965 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 $29,965 and $42,643. Under federal law, school districts are required to indentify the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals each October.
Families can apply for free or reduced-price school meals at any time, though schools enroll most students for the school lunch and school breakfast programs at the beginning of the school year. Eligibility is based on total household income. Families that receive FoodShare, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, or Wisconsin Works (W-2) benefits and foster children who have been formally placed by a state welfare agency or court are eligible for free meals. All information about eligibility is kept confidential and programs must follow nondiscrimination laws.