Evanston bucks free-lunch trend

The New York Times reported Wednesday a surge in the number of students in the nation’s schools who receive free or reduced-price lunches, an indication of adverse impacts from the faltering economy.

But at Evanston/Skokie School District 65, any rise has been barely perceptible, according to Jordan Ryan, coordinator of food and nutrition for the district.

In fact, the percentage of low-income students, a classification that includes families receiving public aid, living in institutions for neglected or delinquent children, supported in foster homes with public funds, as well as those eligible to receive free or reduced lunches, is approximately the same this year, at 41 percent,  as it was in the 2008-09 school year.

The Times calculated an increase of 17 percent nationwide since the 2006-07 school  year,  based upon information received from the Department of Agriculture, the federal agency responsible for the meals program. The increases were particularly sizable in states hit hardest by the weak economy, such as Florida, Nevada, and Tennessee.

The Times noted that Congress passed the National School Lunch Act in 1946 in an effort to support commodity prices after World War II by diverting surplus food from the farms to needy school children. Students from families with incomes less than 130 percent of the poverty level, or $29,055 for a family of four, are eligible for free meals, while those with incomes up to $41,348 can purchase lunch for 40 cents.

As of October 2011, some 2,499 students in District 65 were eligible for free lunch and 424 students were eligible for reduced lunch, a total of 2,923 students, or 40 percent of the total students served by the district.

The percentage of eligible students at elementary schools ranged from 19 percent at Orrington to 66 percent at Oakton, while at middle schools the percentages ranged from 30 percent at Haven to 65 percent at Chute.


Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio stations and business-oriented magazines.

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