School meal aid percentage levels off
This is the first year since Kathy Palm started as director of curriculum for the Bemidji School District that the number of students who qualify to receive free or reduced-price school meals has not increased from the previous year.
At a school board meeting Monday, Palm told the Board of Education that when she first came to Bemidji, the percentage of students receiving free or reduced-priced meals was just below 40 percent. Today, the percentage is much higher - 52 percent - but this number appears to have leveled off.
This year, the school district saw exactly the same percentage of students receive school meal aid as last year.
However, even as the percentage of students appears to have stabilized, the number of students who qualified to receive free or reduced-price meals in Beltrami County in 2010 was twice as high as the state average, according to Minnesota Kids Count.
Schools that participate in the state's school nutrition programs accept applications for free and reduced-priced school meal benefits. Schools send applications to the households of all enrolled students at the beginning of each school year.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education, approval is based on the household's income and how it compares to current U.S. Department of Agriculture household income guidelines.
School districts pay attention to the number of students who qualify to receive assistance for meal payments because if the percentage of students who qualify for meal aid in a school exceeds the district's overall percentage, the school can qualify to receive Title I funding, an additional amount of money from the state that can be used in the classroom.
Four schools in the Bemidji School District that receive Title I funding are Central (82 percent of students qualifying for meal aid), J.W. Smith (78 percent), Solway (61 percent) and Lincoln (55.5 percent) elementary schools.
Because Northern (40 percent) and Horace May (51 percent) elementary schools have a lower percentage of students who receive free and reduced-priced meals than the school district's overall percentage, they do not qualify for Title I services, Palm said.
Nearly 56 percent of kindergarten students at Paul Bunyan Elementary School qualify to receive free or reduced-priced meals, which means the school could receive Title I funding next year.
Palm also noted that in many of the district's schools, the number of students who receive free lunches is significantly higher than the number of students who qualify to receive reduced-price meals. For example, at Bemidji Middle School, 406 students received meals for free in 2011-12, compared to 139 students who received reduced-price meals. In the same school year, 268 students at J.W. Smith received free meals compared to 31 students who received reduced-price meals.