About 30 percent of elementary students in the Lawrence school district qualify for free or reduced-price meals, indicating that the number of Lawrence residents who are "struggling and in poverty" is greater than many people realize, one school official said.
Last school year, 31.4 percent of Lawrence elementary students qualified for free or reduced-price meals. At present, 29.4 percent of elementary students qualify for such meals, but that number is expected to rise as applications for the discounted meals come in throughout the school year.
The number of students qualifying has climbed steadily from year to year, from 20.8 percent in 1978-79, to 26.5 percent in 1985-86, to today's figure of nearly one-third of all Lawrence elementary students. "When you think of people struggling and in poverty, you do not think of Lawrence," said Jeanette Armstrong, the district's director for food service. "It's something I think a lot of people in the community are not aware of."
FAMILIES must meet federal income guidelines to qualify for the free or reduced-price meals. For example, a family of four must have an annual income below $24,790 to qualify for reduced-price meals, and an income below $17,420 to qualify for free meals.
Most of the costs of offering breakfast and lunch are covered by state and federal reimbursements and by student lunch fees. The district's general fund pays only for the adult supervision needed during the breakfast and lunch periods.
The reduced-price guideline represents an income 85 percent above the federally established poverty level, and the free lunch guideline is 30 percent above the poverty level. Still, said Lawrence School Supt. Dan Neuenswander, the Lawrence figures indicate the need for such services as the district's breakfast program.
"We've had an increasing number of kids come to school who were not prepared to learn. They were hungry," he said.
"Some people will say, `The parents ought to have fed them.' Living in a world of `oughts' doesn't correct the problem," Neuenswander said. "One should give them something to eat so they can learn."
IN 1989, the district began offering breakfasts at Woodlawn, East Heights, New York and Kennedy elementary schools. Today, Cordley, Quail Run and Schwegler schools also are involved in the program.
Armstrong said that of the approximately 525 elementary students who regularly receive breakfasts from the district, 83 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
"The program appears to be serving those students who do not have access to breakfast at home," Armstrong said.
However, she said, some parents use the program only on rare occasions, such as when something related to their jobs or their Kansas University studies prevents them from preparing breakfast for their children on a particular day.
Armstrong said a breakfast program at Lawrence High School serves about 60-70 students, about 75 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Armstrong said many of the students qualifying for the reductions live on their own. About 26 percent of junior high school students now qualify for reduced-price lunches, she said.
Looking at both elementary and secondary schools, the number of students districtwide who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches stands at about 26.2 percent. Neuenswander said the percentage of program qualifiers might be lower at the secondary level than at the elementary level because "at the secondary level, a lot of kids won't apply. They have too much pride."