More York County students eligible for free lunch

Alyssa Jackson
  • York County School Districts had more students in the 2014-2015 school year eligible for free lunches.
  • Hanover Public School District and York City School District are both over the state average.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released new guidelines for families qualifying for free lunches.

York County school districts are feeding more kids than ever in their free lunch programs, according to a YorkCounts report published on Wednesday.

The report shows that, for the most part, the number of students who are eligible for the free lunch program has been steadily increasing since 2011. The percentage of eligible students rose in all 16 school districts between the 2013-14 school year and the 2014-15 school year.

The numbers have been collected through 2015, but Lise LeVin, the vice president of community investment at the York County Community Foundation, explained that data for the 2015-16  school year hasn't been completed yet.

All York County school districts had more students eligible for free meals in 2014-15.

Two school districts, Hanover Public School District and York City School District, had numbers from the 2014-15 school year above the state average of 44 percent of students eligible for free school lunches. York City reported that 100 percent of its students were eligible for free lunches, while Hanover reported 60.66 percent of its students were eligible.

York City provides free breakfast and lunch to all of its students. During the after-school programs that take place in the K-8 buildings, the district also serves a free dinner, district spokeswoman Erin James said.

All other school districts fall below 40 percent of students eligible.

York County charter schools had numbers reported between 2009-10 and 2013-14, but numbers were not available for the 2014-15 school year.

YorkCounts also released reports related to child care facilities, the number of children ages 3 to 4 who aren't in preschool and PSSA results by school districts, among others. All of these reports can be found on the YorkCounts website.

Using the numbers: The numbers were gathered by the Penn State Data Center, hired by the York County Community Foundation, and were found through the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Division of Food and Nutrition. LeVin said that the York County Community Foundation does not interpret the numbers or offer suggestions to schools based on the numbers.

"We leave it here as a resource for people to gather," LeVin said. "If you talk to schools, they're very aware of this information."

However, the York County Community Foundation does use the information to inform grant programs and those applying for grants about what the challenges of the community are, LeVin said. The foundation also helps combat poverty and hunger in the community by helping support programs such as Communities in Schools in York City.

Community in Schools helps connect students and families who are living in poverty with support programs. This assistance can range from meals to helping family members get eyeglasses to cleaning their clothes.

York City also is  hoping to increase the number of students who are taking advantage of the free breakfast and lunch programs, James explained. Last year, the district  increased the number of students eating breakfast at the school in the morning from 19 percent to 35 percent, and it hopes to increase that number even more in the coming school year.

New guidelines: The USDA announced Tuesday the new federal income eligibility guidelines for free and reduced-price lunches for the 2016-17 school year. According to a news release from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, schools use the federal information to determine eligibility for the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program and other food programs available to students and communities in need.

There was a slight increase in the federal income eligibility guidelines, as there has been for most years.

Nicole Reigelman, the communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, explained that good nutrition is an important part of a student's overall well-being, including their academics.

"Programs like the school breakfast and free and reduced lunch programs provide students with access to the nutritious food that can fuel them in school, make them less susceptible to illness and able to grow physically, mentally and academically," Reigelman said.

Below are the new numbers for the 2016-17 eligibility for free and reduced lunches.

Family Size         Free Meals or Milk    Reduced Price Meals     Not Eligible

                            (130% of Poverty          (185% of Poverty

Guidelines)                    Guidelines)

One                      $0 to $15,444               $15,445 to $21,978           $21,979 and up

Two                      $0 to $20,826               $20,827 to $29,637           $29,638 and up

Three                   $0 to $26,208               $26,209 to $37,296            $37,297 and up

Four                     $0 to $31,590               $31,591 to $44,955            $44,956 and up

Five                      $0 to $36,972               $36,973 to $52,614            $52,615 and up

Six                       $0 to $42,354               $42,355 to $60,273             $60,274 and up

Seven                  $0 to $47,749               $47,750 to $67,951             $67,952 and up

Eight                    $0 to $53,157               $53,158 to $75,647             $75,648 and up