Topeka In perhaps another sign of the shaky economy, the number of children receiving free or reduced-price lunches in the Kansas public school system has risen sharply.
A total of 152,798 school children are receiving free lunch this school year, which is 13,133 more than last year. That represents an increase of 9.4 percent, according to the Kansas Department of Education. The previous year’s increase was less than 2 percent.
Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said the economic downturn and earlier spike in gasoline prices probably led to this year’s increase.
“Kansans have a lot of pride. People who may have been eligible may not have applied because they could get by, but when fuel prices went up, they applied,” Dennis said.
The number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches in the Lawrence district has not gone up as much as in other areas of the state, but it still has increased significantly, officials said.
Of the district’s 10,800 students, 25 percent receive free lunch, and 7 percent received reduced-price lunch for a total of 32 percent. That is two percentage points higher than last year, according to Paula Murrish, director of food services for the district.
“This is the most jump we have taken in the last 10 years,” she said.
A child from a family of four people is eligible for free lunch if the household income is $27,560 per year or less. A child from a family of four is eligible for a reduced-price lunch if the household income is $39,220 per year or less.
Meal prices vary among school districts, but a reduced-price lunch at a junior high or high school in Lawrence is 40 cents. The full price for a student is $2.35.
In the Tonganoxie school district, officials made a concerted effort to get free or reduced-price lunch to eligible students.
Tonganoxie Supt. Richard Erickson said the reason for that was twofold — as a benefit to the children and their families, and also because the number of students receiving free lunch means the district gets more funding from the state under the school finance formula. Those dollars are directed to programs to help students who are struggling.
The Tonganoxie district reported that the 56 more students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch would produce an additional $100,000 in funding, which would help balance its budget.
Even so, Erickson said the district is preparing for possible budget cuts because of the recent reduction in the state revenue projections.
“If budget cuts are coming, and we expect they are, we want to try the best that we can to reduce expenditures without hurting kids,” he said.