What you need to know about free and reduced school meals ahead of the school year

Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 4:04 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), during the 2022-23 school year, the percent of free/reduced lunches served was 57.79% out of 81,465,100 total lunches served.

For the 2018-19 school year, the percent of free/reduced lunches served was 64.15% out of 91,085,981 total lunches.

Although overtime enrollment and participation decreased for Missouri, nearby school districts such as SPS said there is still a need for free/reduced meals here in the Ozarks. Kim Keller is the Director of Student Nutrition for Springfield Public Schools (SPS). She said she’s seen this here at home.

“There’s a huge need in our area, the state, and across the country, I’m sure,” Keller said. “With the price of groceries going up, everybody’s budget is a little tighter than it usually is. If your situation has changed, we encourage families to fill out that free and reduced application.”

Keller said the number of students on free/reduced lunches has stayed steady over the years but also said there’s been a kick-up over the past year.

“Currently, we’re at 53.36 percent of our students are on free/reduced meal benefits, but 3,622 students are going to be falling off October 3rd,” Keller said. “Those are temporary free students that were on an application last year that still need to fill out an application this year, so we’re really encouraging SPS families to get their applications in this year so they don’t lose those meal benefits.”

Keller said there was a time during the pandemic when USDA grants provided free meals, but since the last school year, they have returned to paid meals. She also said SPS has lots of healthy school lunch options, and even if students are a part of the free lunch program, they can still get the same food as the students that aren’t.

Keller said parents can apply by visiting the SPS website and filling out the free/reduced lunch application. She said it won’t take long to hear back to see if you’ve qualified for the meal benefits.

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