Free And Reduced

Disclaimer: The article below is just to provide information as to why and how. It in no way means I'm opposed to the little children having healthy, nutritious meals at tax payer's cost.

I'm going to try my best to explain, as simply as I can, a complicated issue that I'm asked about from time to time. Free and Reduced meals in our school systems.

Funding for the local school systems comes from three sources, local, state and federal funding. The majority of the funding comes from the state and federal governments.

State funding for local school in Tennessee is determined through a scheme know as the Basic Education Program or BEP. Nobody on earth that I have found fully understands exactly how the BEP works but there are certain components used we understand such as student population. One of the lesser understood components is know as a "counties ability to pay." This means the state takes into account a county's property owners ability to pay higher property taxes. If the state deems that a county's tax payers could afford to pay higher property taxes the state can then pay the local school system less in their BEP payments. The state looks at Loudon County as a wealthy county.

Stick with me, I'm getting somewhere with this. At the same time the state considers Loudon County a wealthy county, the 2010 state report card on school systems shows that the Loudon County school system has 2,869 or 59.9% of it's students economically disadvantaged and 3,346 or 72.3% of it's students qualify for Title I funding. Title I funding is federal funding meant to "bridge the gap between low-income students and other students."

How is it then that the state would consider Loudon County a wealthy county yet our school system has such a high percentage of disadvantaged and low income students? For better or worse, schools have become the feeding place for many students. The costs for breakfast for all students is $1.10 per day. Lunches are $1.85-$2.10 per day depending on grade. If your family meets certain qualifications breakfast would be thirty cents or free and lunches would be forty cents or free. So how does a family qualify for free or reduced meals?

Like me, you might think to qualify for free or reduced meals would be income based and partially that's correct. But there's a lot more to it. Here 's the list of other issues that would qualify a family for free or reduced meals.

This year, a family of four with an income of $40,793.00 would qualify for free or reduced meals also all children in households receiving benefits from SNAP or Families First can get free meals regardless of your income.

Foster children that are under the legal responsibility of a foster care agency or court, are eligible for free meals. Any foster child in the household is eligible for free meals regardless of income. Children who meet the definition of homeless, runaway, or migrant qualify for free meals. Your children may be eligible for free or reduced price meals if you receive WIC
You or your children do not have to be U. S. citizens to qualify for free or reduced price meals. Applicants are not required to have a social security number to apply.

Surprisingly, school systems can ask for proof of eligibility but rarely do and why is that? It all comes back to money. Going back to Title I funding, which in the case of Loudon County schools, is several million dollars per year. For a school system to receive Title I funding, millions of federal dollars, the system must have at least 35% of it's students qualifying for free or reduced meals. Are you starting to see the picture a little better now? The more economically disadvantaged students a school system can show it has, the more money it receives.  

Now, once a school system qualifies for Title I funding certain children will qualify for the funding. Students that might be served by Title 1 funds include migrant students, students with limited English proficiency, homeless students, students with disabilities, neglected students, delinquent students, at-risk students or any student in need. Students can be classified as at-risk for numerous reasons. A few reasons they might be classified as at-risk students include: high number of absences, single-parent home, low academic performance or low-income family.

All that said to go back to the original question. How can the state consider Loudon County a wealthy county while such a high percentage of our students are qualified as disadvantaged in one way or the other.

As you can see from all the qualifications above, nearly any and every child and family could qualify for one of the disadvantaged statuses and even if they don't no one is really checking applications. That's why on paper the Loudon County school system seems to really qualify for disadvantaged status yet based on income demographics Loudon County is considered a wealthy county. 

It's all about the money.