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Number of Springfield Kids Needing Free or Reduced Lunches Jumps 7 Percent in a Decade

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File photo
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US Department of Agriculture

 

Welcome back to our Sense of Community series looking at the impact of poverty on education. In this segment, we look at the percentage of free and reduced lunches that kids qualify for in Springfield Public Schools. That's usually seen as an indicator of poverty levels since it's based on household income.  Here's a chart provided by SPS listing individual schools in the district and how their rates have changed over the last decade.

Children qualify for free or reduced priced meals if their household income falls at or below certain limits on the federal income eligibility guidelines. For example, for a household of two this school year, that annual income to qualify has to be less than $30,451 a year. You can find a link for those eligibility guidelines by clicking here or by asking your local school office. 

Click the "play" button below to hear an interview between Jean Grabeel, director of health services for SPS, and KSMU's news director, Jennifer Moore.

KSMU: So I’m holding this chart with some of the data going back 10 years, and it looks like Springfield’s rate district wide has risen from about 46% in 2009 to about 53% last year. What do you attribute that long-term rise to?

Grabeel:Well, certainly the need. We’ve had an increase in the student population over that period of time too, but then also the need has been there. Even though now we are seeing more jobs that are available, during that period of time, we had an increase in the rates of unemployment, but now that is starting to get better. And so that is one factor that might cause the change here.

KSMU: We often think of poverty as existing in certain pockets of our community. But looking at these numbers and even in some of the areas known for being more prosperous, for example south Springfield, these rates of free and reduced lunches are on the rise over time: Walt Disney Elementary; Cherokee Elementary; Kickapoo High School went from about 17% on free and reduced to 24% last year. Do those numbers surprise you at all?

Grabeel: Not at all. Because it used to be when I started here, anything north of Grand, that was considered where poverty was. And that's just not true anymore. We have pockets of poverty everywhere throughout the district, and really it is pockets of need. We’ve seen that grow over the past 10 years within the district.

KSMU: Do you think that some of these schools that show 80%--even in one or two cases 90% of kids on free and reduced lunches--do you think kids in those schools are having a very different experience in education than the kids in the other schools?

Grabeel: Well, no. We have quality in education no matter what school our children attend. And so that is not an indicator of the type of education or the quality of education that students receive, so no.

KSMU: Can you walk me though the process of how a child is enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program?

Grabeel: Sure. So every year there is a form to complete. And we have that available online. We also have connections through our website. And then, if there are any questions then they can ask at the school site or call Nutrition Services directly for that.  If they are already on the SNAP program or the Food Stamp program, then that is an automatic qualifier for them. They just complete the top portion of the application and then they are automatically qualified for it. And once they complete that form then it is good for the entire year for them, so they don’t have to reconnect or reapply.

KSMU: Springfield Public Schools actually intervenes with kids who drop off of the program, just to follow up. Can you tell me about that?

Grabeel:   Sure. So we take a look at that every September; that's when people renew. There is a mailing that goes out to all the households of those that have been enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program. For those that don’t complete an application, the Nutrition Services right away does a follow up with them. But we’ve included this information within our strategic plan as far as: what are some situations or strategies that we can use to do some interventions for those students that have fallen off?

Principals maybe involved, the counselors, or the school nurse in following up with them. Because they may have a relationship with that family. And sometimes it is a positive thing, so they’ve had a change in their income, they have gotten a job. With others it’s a, "Well, you know I thought it was too late to enroll."  And it is never too late.

KSMU: Jean Grabeel, Director of Health Services for Springfield Public Schools, thank you very much.

Grabeel: Thank you. It's been great to talk to you today.