August 19, 2014

New income guidelines adopted for free, reduced-price school meals in Kansas

More than three-fourths of students in Wichita schools were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches last school year. About half of all students in Kansas K-12 schools were eligible.

Kansas education officials have adopted new income guidelines for free and reduced-price meals at schools and are urging families to apply.

The new guidelines are effective through June 30 and apply to free and reduced-price meals and free milk available through the federally subsidized Child Nutrition Program.

Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level are available for free meals and milk. Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals.

For a family of four in 2014-15, the household income threshold for free meals is $31,005; the threshold for reduced-price meals is $44,123. Guidelines are up about 1.25 percent from the previous year.

In Wichita schools, a reduced-price lunch is 40 cents; reduced-price breakfast is 30 cents.

More than three-fourths of students in Wichita schools were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches last school year. About half of all students in Kansas K-12 schools were eligible.

Meanwhile, Wichita superintendent John Allison said that “a final decision hasn’t been made” on whether the district will participate in a new program that would provide free lunches and breakfasts to all students in certain schools.

The district has until Aug. 31 to apply for the Community Eligibility Provision, a federal program designed to combat hunger at high-poverty schools by reducing paperwork and the stigma of applying for low-cost meals.

“It’s not as simple as making a decision and then serving meals. … The issue is far more complicated than that,” Allison told school board members Monday. “As you look at all the pieces that are attached to this, it becomes very possible for us to hurt the students that we intend to serve, when it comes to academic support and so many other areas.”

Because additional state funding for at-risk children is tied to their eligibility for free or reduced-price lunches, Allison said, he worries that doing away with traditional application forms could endanger that funding.

He added that families who qualify for free or reduced-price meals usually apply, and low-income children are eating at school.

“The fact is, our students are not going without nutrition during the day,” he said.

“Our teachers, our counselors, our social workers work diligently when they see a student that is not participating in the lunch program, isn’t bringing food from home, to find out what the reason is and to make sure that we help correct that situation,” Allison said.

“I think there’s a misconception that … we have all these students who aren’t seeking any nutrition during the school day, and that’s not accurate.”

Households with incomes less than or equal to the following guidelines qualify for free or reduced-price meals or free milk:

One person: $15,171 for free meals; $21,590 for reduced-price meals.

Two people: $20,449 and $29,101.

Three people: $25,727 and $36,612

Four people: $31,005 and $44,123

Five people: $36,283 and $51,634

Six people: $41,561 and $59,145

For each additional family member, add $5,278 to the threshold for free meals and $7,511 for reduced-price meals.

Families should contact their schools or child care centers to find out whether they participate in free-lunch programs. Applications should be available in school offices and may be submitted at any time during the year. Only one application is required per household.

Some students qualify for free meals without applying. These include students from households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid and other programs, or those who are homeless, migrants, in foster care or in Head Start.

If a household member becomes unemployed or a household size changes, the family should contact the school. Such changes may make children in the household eligible for free or reduced-price benefits.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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