Arlington school officials say more students need free or reduced-priced meals

ARLINGTON -- The proportion of Arlington students needing financial help to eat at school has increased 5 percentage points in four years, and school district officials are preparing for more of the same next school year.

Nearly 62 percent of the district's 63,000 students got breakfast and lunch for free or reduced prices last school year, a one-year jump of 3 percentage points.

"We're just hoping our parents will reapply and take advantage of our program, because hungry kids can't learn," said Jackie Anderson, director of food and nutrition services.

That commitment to making sure no one goes hungry doesn't go on summer vacation. Under another program, the district serves 9,000 free meals a day in the summer at most of its 70 schools, as well as at four Boys & Girls Club branches and three apartment complexes.

The summer schedules vary and are available on a website. The program serves any child from 1 to 18 years old, student or not, district resident or not, regardless of income.

There are income eligibility requirements for the regular school year's free-and-reduced-price meal program, which is at the same website. For example, students in four-member families that earn no more than $28,665 in annual gross pay qualify for free meals.

For reduced-priced meals -- 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch -- the income cutoff for those families is $40,793, said Betty Bradford, compliance coordinator for nutrition services.

Families can begin applying Aug. 9 for next year's program services or wait until applications are sent home with students at the start of the school year.

Families receiving food stamps are automatically eligible if they put their case number on the application, Anderson said. Children of homeless and foster families are also automatically eligible, she said.

The meal program is federally funded and administered by the Texas Agriculture Department.

The percentage of Arlington students in the program rose from 56.4 percent in 2006-07 to 57.7 percent the next year and to 58.7 percent the next. The figure was 61.7 percent in 2009-10.