Data from the 2012-13 school year shows that 43.2 percent of public school students (358,775) were eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. Patrick Gasper with the Department of Public Instruction says that number continues to increase.
“We have at least a ten-year trend of that percentage growing. We’re just over 43 percent statewide now and there are some districts where the population of students who are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals are pushing 80 and 90 percent. So it’s certainly something that’s been growing across Wisconsin over the years.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services updates income eligibility guidelines each year for students to qualify for free or reduced-price school meals based on federal poverty levels. For this school year, kids whose annual household income is $30,615 or less for a family of four qualify for free meals.
Gasper says good nutrition helps kids study. Hungry children are less likely to be eager and attentive students. “These programs exist to help students have a nutritious meal. One of the things that can prevent a kid from concentrating in a classroom is the rumbling in their stomachs. So these programs are definitely beneficial, they help kids, and they help them stay concentrating on the school work at hand.”
Applications may be submitted at any time, but they are usually provided during registration periods and at the start of the school year. Households participating in the FoodShare or W-2 programs or those with children in foster care do not need to apply for free meals, they’re already in the system.