- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Nearly one-third of St. Mary’s public school students participated in the free and reduced-price meals program last year.
The program uses household size and family income to determine eligibility for reduced-price or free meals. Those guidelines have been revised for next school year, allowing more families to qualify.
Last school year 5,286 students — 247 more than the previous year — participated in the program, according to Michael Jones, supervisor of food and nutrition services for St. Mary's public schools.
In the 2008-2009 school year, about 25 percent of students in St. Mary’s were enrolled in the program. That grew to 30 percent last year and could likely be higher this school year, Jones said.
St. Mary’s public schools served more than 1.5 million lunches last school year. More than 45 percent of those meals served at school cafeterias were sold as free or reduced-price meals, an increase from 36 percent from three years prior, Jones said.
Higher numbers of elementary school students typically participate in the program compared to middle or high school students, Jones said.
School kitchens have been serving more and more meals each year, Jones said.
“We add hours to the kitchen for the manager to manage,” he said. The school managers can either hire another part-time cafeteria worker or add hours to an employee to allow for more prep time, he said.
The St. Mary’s school board voted in May to increase the price of school lunches by 10 cents this coming year to help keep up with the cost of the school meals program.
The 10-cent increase means parents will pay $2.25 for elementary lunches and $2.45 for middle or high school lunches, Mike Jones, supervisor of food and nutrition services, said.
Breakfast prices will increase by 5 cents to $1.20 for elementary meals and $1.30 for secondary school per meal.
Milk costs will stay at 50 cents per carton this school year.
Students eligible for reduced-price meals can buy breakfast for 30 cents and lunch for 40 cents, the same prices as last year. In addition to the free or reduced-price meal, any student who qualifies also receives free milk.
The free and reduced guidelines were obtained by multiplying the 2012 federal income poverty guidelines by 130 percent and 185 percent, respectively.
For example, a child from a family of four is eligible for free school meals if the household's current income is below $29,965. If the family's income is between $29,965 and $42,643, the child is eligible for reduced-price meals.
The number of students receiving the free or reduced-price meals statewide is on the rise as well. The income level to qualify for the meal program at schools usually rises each year based on poverty guidelines set by the federal government related to the Consumer Price Index.
School systems are reimbursed by the federal government for the meals served through the program.
Parents must reapply every year; meal benefit applications will be sent home from school at the beginning of the school year.
The applications are sent home with students on the first day of school and are also available on the St. Mary’s public school website. Other children who may be eligible for free or reduced-price meals include most foster children, runaways, children enrolled in Head Start programs and children in households participating in WIC.
Parents or guardians may reapply at any time during the school year and are encouraged to do so if their household size goes up, they lose their job or their income goes down.
To learn more
Visit www.eatsmartmaryland.org for information about some of the child nutrition programs operating in Maryland. Individuals who want information about schools or other agencies participating in the child nutrition programs can call 410-767-0214.