Fifty-one percent of public school students were eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch in 2012-13, according to a Southern Education Foundation report. That means low-income students are a majority, some have reported.
Qualifying for a subsidized lunch is a very unreliable measure of poverty. It both undercounts and overcounts the poor, explains Kevin Drum on Mother Jones. But, mostly, it overcounts.
A family of four earning $44,000 a year, less than 185 percent of the poverty line, would qualify for the reduced-price lunch. That’s about 7 percent of the total. Forty-four percent get a free lunch because family income is under $31,000.
. . . lots of poor kids, especially in the upper grades, don’t participate in school lunch programs even though they qualify. They just don’t want to eat in the cafeteria. So there’s always been a bit of undercounting of those eligible.
On the other hand, a new program called the Community Eligibility Provision, enacted a couple of years ago, allows certain school districts to offer free meals to everyone without any proof of income. Currently, more than 2,000 school districts enrolling 6 million students are eligible, and the number is growing quickly. For example, every single child in the Milwaukee Public School system is eligible.
A few school districts — typically those with affluent students — are dropping out of the school lunch program because students don’t want to pay for the new smaller, healthier meals.
Instead of fooling with inaccurate school lunch data, why not ask about family income directly (and parental education while we’re at it)?
Child poverty increased in the recession, but is now trending down, writes Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution The National Center for Education Statistics estimates 21 percent of school-age children were in families living under the poverty line in 2012. Child Trends estimates 20 percent in 2013.