Friday, December 09, 2011

TOP STORY >> More students qualify for free schools meals

Leader staff writer

More students are taking advantage of national school lunch and breakfast programs. Local children are no exception to a 17 percent nationwide increase caused by the slumped economy.

Seth Blomeley, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, said 59 percent of Arkansas’ public school students were enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program for the 2010-11 school year. This year’s count is not available yet.

That number is up almost 3 percent from the state’s 2009-10 figure of 56.7 percent.

How do local districts compare? All but one is under the state average.

About 65 percent of the Lonoke School District’s students get free or reduced lunch, said food service director Sue Roedel. According to the numbers provided by Blomeley, that is up 10 percent from the district’s 55 percent in 2010-11.

The Pulaski County Special School District, according to its October figures, is at 55 percent. Of that, 46 percent are eating free meals.

According to the Cabot School District’s November count, 37 percent of its students are enrolled in the program.

For 2010-11, the Carlisle School District had 52 percent, followed by Beebe School District with 49 percent and the Searcy School District with 45 percent.

In the Pulaski County Special and Cabot school districts, 11 schools saw a higher percentage of their students enrolled in the program compared to the 2010-11 school year.

Children receiving free or reduced lunch rose by 8 percent at Sherwood and Oakbrook Elementary schools, according to figures provided by the state Education Department and counts supplied by PCSSD for October 2011.

Tolleson Elementary had the second-largest increase, 7 percent.

Sylvan Hills Elementary saw a jump of 5 percent.

Bayou Meto Elementary experienced a 3 percent increase and Clinton Elementary saw another 2 percent, followed by Cato Elementary, Arnold Drive Elementary, Northwood Middle School and Taylor Elementary with a gain of 1 percent each.

Seven local PCSSD schools — Dupree Elementary, Harris Elementary, Jacksonville Middle, Sylvan Hills Middle, Jacksonville High, Pinewood Elementary and North Pulaski High — saw slight decreases in the percentage of students enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program, with the exception of Harris, which had 7 percent less and Jacksonville Middle with 8 percent less.

In Cabot, according to counts supplied by the district for November 2011, Central Elementary saw a 14 percent hike in students getting free or reduced lunch.

The Academic Center for Excellence had a 13 percent increase.

Both Cabot Junior High South and Eastside Elementary experienced a 5 percent climb, followed by Westside Elementary and Cabot Middle North. Each had a 4 percent increase.

Cabot High, Cabot Junior North and Magness Creek Elementary each saw a 3 percent gain, followed by Northside and Cabot Middle South with 1 percent.

Three schools — Southside Elementary, Ward Central Elementary and Stagecoach Elementary — had percentages that were lower than the 2010-11 figures by two percent or less.

Since 2009-10, half of the Cabot School District’s schools have had a net gain in the percentage of their students receiving free or reduced lunch, while the other half stayed level or had a decrease.

Northside Elementary saw an 11.5 percent increase, followed by Magness Creek with a 10 percent jump.

Half of PCSSD’s local schools have experienced an increase since 2009-10 and half stayed the same or had a decrease.

Tolleson Elementary had the largest spike with a 10 percent increase in receiving free or reduced lunch.

Three of Lonoke’s four schools have seen that percent rise from 2009-10 to 2010-11. Both of Carlisle schools saw an increase, with Carlisle High having a gain of 9 percent.

Five of Beebe’s seven schools also had an increase. Badger Elementary had the highest with a 7 percent spike.

Searcy was the only district to see more schools experience a decrease than an increase, although the highest loss was only 1.5 percent. Four out of its six schools saw a dip in the percentage of their students receiving free or reduced lunch.

Parents or guardians have to fill out a form to see if their child qualifies for free or reduced lunch through the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

At elementary schools, lunch costs $1.75 and $2 at secondary schools. Breakfast is available for $1 at both.

Eligible students can receive those meals free or at a price of 40 cents for lunch and/or 30 cents for breakfast.

The income guidelines are $20,147 annually for a family of one; $27,214 for a family of two; $34,281 for a family of three; $41,348 for a family of four; $48,415 for a family of five; $55,482 for a family of six; $62,549 for a family of seven; $69,619 for a family of eight; and $7,067 for each additional household member if the family has more than seven people.