IW schools see increase in free lunches

Published 4:21 pm Monday, February 24, 2020

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Isle of Wight County Schools saw a 12-percent increase in the number of students qualifying to receive free or reduced-price lunches this school year.

According to school division records, a total of 1,896 students qualified to receive free or reduced-price meals last school year, with 1,641 meeting the family income requirements for free lunches and another 255 qualifying for reduced-price. While the number of students qualifying for reduced-price meals fell to 213 during the current school year, an additional 270 students qualified to receive free lunches, equating to a total of 1,911 receiving free meals and an overall total of 2,124 students receiving some form of subsidy.

That said, Isle of Wight County Schools’ total student population has also increased during the past year. At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, the division’s average daily membership — a figure the state uses to allocate funding to each school system — was reported to be about 5,356 students, with just over 35 percent of those being eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches. At the beginning of the current school year, this figure rose to just over 5,420 students, with 39 percent of the new total qualifying for either free or reduced-price lunches.

While the division has not attributed the increase in qualifications to any particular reason, IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs mentioned that the division’s new online application for free or reduced-price lunches, which made its debut at the start of this school year, has helped get more responses from parents.

“The site offers a secure, confidential process for submitting an application versus a paper application returned to school with their child,” she said.

The division has also made an effort this school year to increase its communication with parents –  picking up the phone and calling them to check on the information they submitted in their free/reduced-price application, Briggs added.

“We have found that some families may have left off a dependent who is in college, which may have prevented the family from qualifying for free/reduced lunch,” she said.

Briggs then added that the qualifying income threshold for free and reduced lunch increases every year, which may qualify a family if their income does not increase annually, particularly if they were close to qualifying in a previous school year. According to the Virginia Department of Education, children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for free meals, and those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents for lunch and 30 cents for breakfast.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, a household of three in Virginia must earn $27,729 or less annually to be eligible for free meals and earn $39,461 or less to be eligible for reduced-price meals during the 2019-2020 school year. For a household of four, the threshold is $33,475 or less annually for free meals and $47,638 or less for reduced-price meals.

“There is also a direct certification process through the Virginia Department of Education where we send them our roster of students and they look for addresses that match other databases receiving assistance through [other] state agencies,” Briggs said. “We then notify the family that they qualify for free/reduced meals.”