Who are these free and reduced lunch (FRL) households? Iowa City Community School District’s (ICCSD’s) FRL data has been bandied about as board candidates and voters discuss whether to bus students to achieve more socioeconomic balance.
To put FRL data into perspective, a household’s eligibility for FRL is not always synonymous with poverty because some households eligible for FRL have incomes above the federal poverty level. See here.
Households can qualify for free lunch if their household income does not exceed 130% of the federal poverty guidelines. So a family of four could make up to $31,590 annually.
Households can qualify for reduced lunch if their household income does not exceed 185% of the federal poverty guidelines. So family of four can make up to $44,955 annually and qualify for reduced lunch.
Sometimes all students in a particular school will receive free breakfast and lunch.
The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) …allows schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) with high poverty rates to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students….(See here.)
Homeless “children [are] automatically eligible for free meals or free milk.” (See here on pages 7-8 & 15.)
To put ICCSD’s FRL data into even more perspective, here is a link to the Johnson County Iowa Area Median Income Guidelines. So a family of four with a household income of $44,995 annually (the highest income a four person household could have and still qualify for reduced lunch) would be very near the bottom of the third quartile for the area median income in Johnson County, Iowa. Many local FRL households would be in the bottom quartile of Johnson County’s area median income.
A single parent who went back to school and became a new teacher in ICCSD and had three children with no other household income would have children who would qualify for FRL. Undoubtedly, a lot of FRL families have parents who work part or full time or perhaps are retirees living on a limited income or are disabled.
Schools’ participation in the National School Lunch Program is 1) necessary to help ensure hunger is not a barrier to learning, and 2) brings money into states and their school districts. See here and below.
There are likely many reasons FRL participation rates are increasing nationally, including that 1) schools have done a better job with public outreach and of identifying and getting eligible families to apply, especially during the recession, 2) the application is more family friendly, and 3) the application is in many languages.
School board candidate, J.P. Claussen, pointed out that ICCSD’s high schools’ average FRL rate [31.2%] was below its average elementary rate [37.7%], and ICCSD’s own enrollment report (page 27) shows this to be so. As families age, incomes sometimes grow so that households may lose their eligibility for FRL over time. Also local demographics are changing, and the University of Iowa’s enrollment is increasing, which may result in more young parents with lower household incomes.
With ICCSD’s FRL rates among schools ranging from <10% to >70%, more balance among schools would be desirable. To create more flexibility in school assignments, roads and rivers, absent compelling reasons otherwise, should not be used as artificial boundary lines. Additionally, now is the time to discuss whether additional balance could be achieved if junior highs were not strictly aligned to high schools and to take the next step toward enriched programming or magnet schools to drive some school choice. Whether ICCSD utilizes bussing as a strategy or not, ICCSD can do better.