As the Sept. 4 start of the new school year approaches, the Blaine County School District anticipates that about 40 percent of its students will qualify for free or reduced-price meals paid for by the federal government.
With an annual enrollment of about 3,400 students, that translates to about 1,360 district students receiving federal assistance to eat at school.
District Communications Director Heather Crocker said Wednesday that the number is a “dramatic increase from only a few years ago when it was in the high 20s and low 30s.” Crocker noted that the number varies from month to month as family incomes change due to seasonal employment factors.
Data available at the Indicators Northwest website verifies Crocker’s assessment that the number of Blaine County students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals continues to climb. According to Indicators Northwest, 16.2 percent of the district’s students qualified for free and reduced-price lunches in the 1998-99 school year, 24.7 percent for the 2003-04 school year and 35 percent for the 2009-10 school year.
The number is a “dramatic increase from only a few years ago when it was in the high 20s or 30s.”
District communications director
Even at 40 percent, the district is toward the low end in Idaho for the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals through the federal government’s national school lunch and school breakfast programs.
Comparative data from Indicators Northwest are currently available only through the 2009-10 school year. It shows then that the Wilder School District had the highest statewide free and reduced-lunch student percentage at 83.5 percent. The other top five school districts were Lapwai with 74.5 percent, Salmon with 74.1 percent, Bliss with 71.6 percent and Caldwell with 70.7 percent.
The Twin Falls School District in that year had participation of 54.3 percent.
Also in the Magic Valley that year, the Jerome school district had 59.7 percent participation, the Minidoka district 58.4 percent, the Cassia district 54.9 percent, the Gooding district 53.3 percent, the Shoshone district 49.8 percent and the Camas district 48.8 percent.
About 7.4 million children nationwide receive free or reduced-price lunches through the federal programs.
In Blaine County, federal funding for meals is even more than what the Blaine County School District receives from paid meals. According to the district’s 2012-13 school year budget, the district expects to receive $660,000 this year in school meal federal reimbursement, compared to a total of $441,000 collected from paid or partially paid meals.
Reimbursement applies to both breakfast and lunch served at Blaine County schools. Full-price breakfast at all schools is $1.25. A student qualifying for free breakfast pays nothing, while a student qualifying for reduced breakfast price pays 30 cents.
Lunch prices were raised 10 cents this year at all district schools. Full-price elementary school lunch is now $2.20, while middle school prices are $2.45 and high school prices are $2.70.
Students qualifying for free school lunch pay nothing, while students qualifying for reduced price meals pay 40 cents for lunch.
According to qualification rules released earlier this month by the School District, a family can have an annual income of $71,947 and still qualify for reduced-price meals, provided that that there are at least eight members of the household.
For households with more than eight members, the qualifying rules allow that an additional $7,326 can be added to the annual income for each additional household member.
A family can have a household of three members and qualify for reduced price meals with an annual income of $35,317.
For free meals, a family with eight household members can have an annual income of $50,557. The qualifying rules allow that an additional $5,148 can be added to the annual income for each additional household member beyond eight.
A family with three members can qualify for free meals with an annual income of $24,817.
The School District serves an average of 1,575 meals, paid or otherwise, each day.