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.

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...

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  1. District 65 should be offering healthier meal options

    I don't support building a new school for the 5th Ward, primarily because there is space available at Oakton, Dawes and Washington, and as a result, the additional expenditures of the new school would make it extremely imprudent at the present time.  The District should instead increase funding to support disadvantaged kids so that educational performance divide is eliminated, i.e., more after school programs, creating more opportunities for teachers to meet with parents who cannot attend parent-teacher conferences.  Essentially, programs that enable and encourage parents and kids to be more involved in education.  Something that comes to mind may be events in the evening where food can be served.

    Which also leads me to the nutrition issue.  My daughters don't participate in the "hot lunch" program because we do not believe the meals are nutritious.  There are too many instances where "breakfast for lunch" is the menu item of the day.  If you've seen this, it's basically pancakes or waffles with breakfast sausage.  They are shipped to the schools from ETHS in giant plastic bags, and the kids basically load up the meal with sweet syrup. What this does is create a huge sugar high for the kids, and then an hour later there is the sugar crash.  This type of diet does not help the child in the classroom, especially in the afternoon.

    District 65 needs to seriously rethink its lunch program.  There have been numerous articles about schools that have employed a "farm to table" program, where the kids are eating much more nutritiously, have more energy and generally are much healthier.  The recent adoption of a fruit and vegetable cart is a small step toward this, but the District needs to be bolder.  And in terms of expenditures, one that I would support.

    Increasing property taxes to build a school and the related costs of maintaining and operating such school is incredible fiscal foolishness.  It will raise property taxes exorbitantly, which will have adverse effects on property values as well as the "allure" of Evanston, which in turn will probably engender a migration of families away from Evanston, thereby reducing the amount of revenues collected by the city.  In short, I foresee a negative spiraling effect on the fiscal condition of the city if plans to build the 5th Ward school go forward.

    I also would like to highlight here that I'm not opposed to an increase in property taxes, per se, but what I am opposed to is the egregiously inefficient use of our tax dollars.  I want the District to use our money in sensible ways, and with distinct identifiable goals.  Is that too much to ask?

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