In the fast-growing Northwest school district, there were a shade under 18,000 students at the end of the 2012-13 school year. Of that number, about 24 percent (4,311 students) received free, or reduced-price meals.Northwest will provide the same federally-funded program in the upcoming school for those students whose families meet certain income-eligibility or automatic-qualifying guidelines. The guidelines for the free and reduced meal program are the same as they were in previous school years, according to Emily Conklin, the district’s director of communication.The parent or guardian of the student can determine program eligibility by submitting an income-based application, which is available at http://www.schoollunchapp.com. Debi Miller, Northwest's food-service director, said Northwest is one of few districts in Texas to offer the application for the free- and reduced-price meal plan online. Students will see the information as part of their online enrollment information. It was available online last year but families also got the info on students' printed back-to-school packets. This year, enrollment has switched to paperless enrollment. Paper copies of the meal program application, though, are available at the campuses."I like that we have it online," Miller said. "Not many school districts are offering it this way. This makes it easier for the applicants. If you make a mistake on the online application, you can't move forward to the next step. If you make a mistake on a paper application, I have to send it back to them and we have to start over."Tiffany Rodgers, free and reduced specialist in the school district's food services department, will review applications to determine if a family meets the requirements. Parents can contact Rodgers to obtain an application or ask any questions about the program at 817-215-0053.Certain categorical designations automatically qualify students. Children whose families are receiving certain types of federal assistance are eligible as are foster children or victims of natural disasters. Families who lose their main source of income can contact Rodgers to find out if the unexpected loss of income makes the student eligible for the free- and reduced-price meal program.Northwest school district officials are seeking information from local agencies to find out which students might meet a categorical designation and would be eligible for automatic inclusion into the free and reduced-price program without their families needing to apply.The first day of school for the 2013-14 school year is Aug. 27.