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Majority of Public School Students Qualify for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch

A Twitter friend alerts me to this alarming statistic: 51% of public school students were eligible for federal assistance in paying for lunch in the 2012–2013 school year. Here's the Washington Post's map of the percentage of public school kids from low-income households:

South Dakota among the better states, with only 40% of students statewide qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. "Only" 40%. We tie with Alaska, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. Wyoming, North Dakota, and Minnesota are among ten states with lower rates of pre-K–12 students qualifying for lunch assistance.

If you're teaching, and you're finding kids harder to keep focused on their studies than you remember from ten or twenty years ago, this statistic could explain a big chunk of the problem.

“When they first come in my door in the morning, the first thing I do is an inventory of immediate needs: Did you eat? Are you clean? A big part of my job is making them feel safe,” said Sonya Romero-Smith, a veteran teacher at Lew Wallace Elementary School in Albuquerque. Fourteen of her 18 kindergartners are eligible for free lunches.

She helps them clean up with bathroom wipes and toothbrushes, and she stocks a drawer with clean socks, underwear, pants and shoes.

...The job of teacher has expanded to “counselor, therapist, doctor, parent, attorney,” she said [Lyndsey Layton, "Majority of U.S. Public School Students Are in Poverty," Washington Post, 2015.01.16].

Maslow's hierarchy rears its head again: if we haven't met a child's basic needs for food, shelter, and safety, even the best-qualified, best-paid teacher will have a tough time helping that child learn multiplication tables and civics. And even the best-intentioned scholarship and training programs won't be able to build the workforce we need if we don't do more to ensure that kids come to kindergarten feeling fed, safe, and ready to learn the basics.


  1. John 2015.01.19

    I want to see and read about how much each governor has "grown" South Dakota's student poverty rate - who contributed the most, and when.

  2. leslie 2015.01.19

    "doctor, parent, couselor...ect." excellent, inspiring quotation. compassion in the!!

    suppose those socks and underware come out of he/she's weekly gasoline budget?

  3. mike from iowa 2015.01.19

    South Dakota

    Last Updated: 1/12/2013
    Food Services: Statute 13-35-1 (1997) allows school districts to enter into contractual agreements with the Division of Education Services and Resources to establish school food services programs. Statute 13-35-2 (1975) allows pupils and school personnel to be charged for meals fed through a food services program.

    Adequate Time to Eat: No state policy.

    School Breakfast: No state policy.

    Food Allergies: No state policy.

    Farm-to-School: No state policy.

  4. Gayle 2015.01.19

    I have been out of the school lunch thing for alot of years, but it has been a pet peeve of mine because I use to read the school lunch menus, which were very unhealthy. Matter of fact, I use to write a few letters about it.

    So now how much is thrown in the trash because kids do not want to eat what is served? Ok, I am being kind of crass, but when schools have tried to serve healthy meals kids are not happy and it goes into the trash. Do the kids who are hungry eat what is served? Like I said....I am out of touch on this.

  5. grudznick 2015.01.19

    Mike, have you fixed Iowa yet?

    Adequate Time to Eat: Eat faster
    School Breakfast: Eat at home or get here and eat fast
    Food Allergies: Somebody's allergic to everything. If that's you stay home or get a peanut dog
    Farm-to-School: Pasteurize everything we feed our kids, and no raw eggs in school

  6. leslie 2015.01.19

    the 1% share of national income (EXCLUDING CAPITAL GAINS) was 7.7 % in 1973, but it rose to 17.4% in 2010.

    Similarly the .01% share (defined as earning at least $5.9 million annually) of national income was .5% in 1973, but it rose to 3.3% in 2010.

    DEFENDING THE ONE PERCENT, (2013 citing Piketty and Saez 2003 as updated)

    mankiw's class walked out on this presentation.

    even though the professor does not share the left's policy conclusions, "it is worthwhile to listen carefully to their arguments...." some of those students likely joined the Occupy movement on Wall Street.

    in 2009, the "poorest" 1/5 paid 1% on an ave. of $23,500 income, the middle 1/5 paid 11.1% on an ave. of $63,400, and the top 1/5 paid 23.2% on an ave. of $223,500 and the 1% paid 28.9% on ave. of $1,219,700 income.

    Note the average Survivor winner (think aberdeen's mrs. chas. johnson's bid) pays $400,000 on $1 million winnings.

    VERY ROUGHLY SPEAKING, all of the above numbers are subject to tax code changes over time altering incentives to report compensation in alternative forms, adding payroll tax to income tax, dividends, capital gains, capital income taxed at corporate level, and aggressive tax planning minimizing some high income earners to paying relatively little [or none, e.g. GE, Romney ect.] in taxes.

    our three stooges barbie, ken and "ground" are representing the upper echelon and not the vast majority of constituents, cutting the social safety net.

  7. leslie 2015.01.19

    1. they have deregulated financial markets;
    2. privatized public services (EB5);
    3. run down welfare systems;
    4. dismantled laws protecting working people; and
    5. demonized unions.

    our legislature, brought to you by Kochs & ALEC, the republican govs. assn, the republican attys gen. assn and the republican secretarys of state, follow this philosophy.

    s. moore, gaurdian 1.19,15

  8. John 2015.01.19

    Adequate time to eat: let's see, in Ranger school we had less than a minute to clear our tray and leave the messhall, on the rare occasion when we ate in a messhall. So anything more than a minute . . . I mean, really, quit coddling them . . .

    Now which SD governors have or are growing our student poverty rate? Let's name names; let's affix their earned legacy.

  9. mike from iowa 2015.01.20


    Last Updated: 7/31/2013
    281 IAC 58.7 requires districts to provide lunch programs for all students who attend public school 4 or more hours each school day. Code 256.7(29) requires establishing nutritional content standards for foods and beverages provided on school grounds during the school day. Code 256.7(57) requires convening a nutrition advisory panel to submit nutritional standard recommendations to the state board. Iowa Code 256.7(58) requires providing nutritional content standards and monitoring compliance. 281 IAC 58 outlines school breakfast and lunch program nutritional content standards for other foods and beverages.

    Adequate Time to Eat: No state policy.

    School Breakfast: 281 IAC 58.6 (2002) allows school districts to provide a school breakfast program at all schools in the district.

    Food Allergies: No state policy.

    Last Updated: 11/24/2010
    Farm-to-School: Code 190A.1-190A.4 (2007) establishes a farm to school program to encourage and promote the purchase of locally and regionally produced or processed food. The program seeks to link elementary and secondary public and nonpublic schools with farms to provide schools with fresh and minimally processed food for inclusion in school meals and snacks, to encourage children to develop healthy eating habits, and provide farmers access to consumer markets. The program may include activities that provide students with hands-on learning opportunities, such as farm visits, cooking demonstrations, and school gardening and composting programs. The statute also establishes a council charged with establishing partnerships between public agencies, nonprofit organizations and schools and with seeking out financial or in-kind contributions to the program.

  10. JeniW 2015.01.20

    Gayle, it does not matter what the schools serve for lunch because there will always be food that is thrown away. Not all kids like the same thing, or have the same level of appetite.

    There is a lot of food served to diners that is thrown away at restaurants because the diners do not like everything that is served with a meal, or become "full" and do not want more to eat. Adults do that, so it should be expected that kids will do the same.

    What is more disturbing about school lunches, IMO, is that it is the main meal of the day for so many children.

  11. mike from iowa 2015.01.20

    Shows the number of kids eligible and the percentage of kids eligible for free or reduced meals in all states from 2000-2009.

  12. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.01.20

    Grudz said,
    "Adequate Time to Eat: Eat faster"
    That's a very good way to develop an eating disorder or digestive problem. The bugs people get in their gut now are much different and more virulent than in the past.

    "School Breakfast: Eat at home or get here and eat fast."
    Same problems, especially when there is no or very unhealthy food at home. Schools that serve breakfast start earlier and successfully schedule to meet such needs.

    "Food Allergies: Somebody's allergic to everything. If that's you stay home or get a peanut dog."
    Those allergies can kill them, and the government is obligated by law to provide an education. How should they deal with that?

    "Farm-to-School: Pasteurize everything we feed our kids, and no raw eggs in school."
    In many schools in MN they serve food grown by nearby farms. In fact, some schools' students grow their lunches in school gardens. Those gardens are great biology lessons too. Sometimes extra garden produce is sold as an extra income which is plowed back into the class.

    Think about the farmers in those small towns struggling to make ends meet. They could gain extra income providing food to the schools.

    BTW, I read that after the first year of more nutritious lunches, the amount of food thrown out has decreased substantially. We know what finicky and unadventurous eaters children can be, so it's no surprise that their initial response was negative.

    I'll search for the source of that throw out amount.

  13. bearcreekbat 2015.01.20

    Deb, thanks for an excellent comment!

  14. grudznick 2015.01.20

    Our schools don't exist to pay to subsidize small organic farmers with dirty milk or eggs. They don't exist to buy free range chickens to kill magically and feed to starving kids. They exist to safely educate kids, and to do so in the most tax payer efficient manner possible.

    That means pasturized milk, slaughtered chickens from Walmart, and eat fast folks because you've got some learnin' to do so the teachers can get done working at 4pm.

  15. larry kurtz 2015.01.20

    Actually, it means Sysco will be buying out their competitors so he can massage his margins at taxpayer expense.

  16. larry kurtz 2015.01.20

    Foodservicers lobby Pierre and other state capitals so lunch ladies are powerless to offer healthy foods to kids.

  17. grudznick 2015.01.20

    Mr. kurtz, I think your Syscophus people who buy out corporations are just better players at the game of life than some lunch ladies. But I did know this one lunch lady that...well, that's a story for a different day. I may have told Bill once over cocktails but I figured he wasn't paying attention or was already past the point of retention.

  18. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.01.20

    No subsidies Grudz. No magic. Just good business. Those local food providers pay taxes in that school district. What's good for a community is good for the school in it.

    Does America simply let it's children starve? Is that what a great nation does? Is that an example of the Christian ethic?

    Grudz, I try not to psychoanalyze anyone here because that makes no sense, but jeez! Grudz what in Hell did school and teachers and administrators ever do to you that you detest them so completely and thoroughly. Nobody here goes after schools with the viciousness that you do. I totally and completely do not understand and I have tried really hard to get your point of view.

  19. grudznick 2015.01.20

    Ms. Geelsdottir, I am the only person here who keeps wanting to give good teachers more money, and all you libbies shoot down that idea at every turn. What is wrong with you?

  20. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.01.21

    Grudz, I haven't shot that idea down at all.

    That's not at all what I commented about. Would you care to respond to my comment?

  21. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.01.21

    Grudz? About my comment. Are you out there?

Comments are closed.