Kansas increase in free school lunches is tied to poverty, not districts abusing the system

08/26/2014 10:54 AM

08/26/2014 12:22 PM

A Kansas Association of School Boards report finds the increase in children receiving free or discounted meals is tied to increasing poverty rates and is not a ploy to boost school funding.

Over the past 15 years, the number of students eligible for the meals has swelled from 33 percent to 50 percent, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

The number of students who qualify for free meals factors into the state’s school finance formula. School districts receive more money for students from low-income households, based on the idea that schools in impoverished areas have a higher need.

The organization’s lobbyist, Mark Tallman, said the report is a response to state lawmakers’ questions about why there is an increase in students eligible for the meals and whether the growth in applications is linked to schools misusing the formula to get more funding.

Tallman said there has been no evidence to support the idea that formula changes have caused the increase.

Between 2005 and 2009, the school finance formula in Kansas changed to link more state aid to free and discounted meal eligibility, after a Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school funding.

The association’s report finds the rise in applications is largely consistent with U.S. Census Bureau data that show an increase in childhood poverty.

It also finds Kansas schools have improved how officials determine which children, such as homeless students or kids in foster care, automatically qualify for the meals without their parents submitting applications.

The analysis said that has contributed to the number of Kansas students eligible to receive meals.

For children to receive free lunches, their parents must fill out family-income paperwork showing they earn no more than 130 of the federal poverty rate. For a discounted lunch, the cut-off is 185 percent.

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