According to the report released by the Southern Education Foundation, 51 percent of students in pre-K through 12th grade received free or reduced-price lunch during the 2012–13 school year. Forty-four percent got their lunch for free and 7 percent paid a reduced price.
Participation in the lunch program is a rough proxy for children’s economic status. In order to qualify for reduced-price lunch, a family of four must earn less than 185 percent of the poverty line, or roughly $44,000. The cutoff for free lunch is $31,000, just above the poverty line.
However, there are now 2,000 school districts, enrolling 6 million students, that are eligible to offer free lunch to all students regardless of income. At the same time, many students, especially in the upper grades, who qualify for the program don’t participate.
Although the subsidized lunch data may undercount participation among some students and overcount among others, it remains the best — and one of the only — sources of information we have on students’ economic status.
Mother Jones, Jan. 17
The Washington Post, Jan. 16