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Free and reduced school meals rise

November 23, 2001

Free and reduced school meals rise



By TARA REILLY
tarar@herald-mail.com


More Washington County students are receiving free and reduced lunches this year than last year, and school officials say that means the school system will be eligible to receive more grant money.

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Gary Dodds, supervisor of food services, said at a Board of Education work session Tuesday morning that 31 percent of the county's 19,500 students qualify for the Free and Reduced Meals program, up from 27 percent last year.

Household size and income based on federal government guidelines determine eligibility.

"We are experiencing an increase now because we are at a higher poverty level," said Interim Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan.

In August, the School Board began a campaign asking those families who might qualify for the program to sign up. Dodds said the board reached its goal to increase the number of students in the program by 10 percent.

He said 5,881 students have enrolled, an increase of 524 students from the 5,357 enrolled last year.

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Morgan said the school system automatically qualifies for increases to grants that are determined by free and reduced lunch percentages, including the Title I grant.

Title I is a federal program that helps pay for extra instruction at schools with a large number of low-income children.

"The real purpose for this is for students to be able to get the services that they need," Morgan said.

The School Board spread the word about the benefits of increasing free and reduced meals by mailing information and applications to parents, hanging up signs in schools and asking principals to remind parents at school meetings.

"I believe the success of the campaign was based on communication with the parents," Dodds said.

School Board member Paul Bailey addressed the criticism the school system has received for spending money to mail the applications home to parents.

"It's an investment that's probably going to return 150 percent over the investment we put into it," Bailey said.

Morgan said the school system is working on next year's campaign, which might include parents being able to sign up for the program on the School Board's Web site.

Dodds said the School Board hopes to increase the number of students receiving free and reduced meals by at least 5 percent next year.

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