At the beginning of the school year, each parent is all too familiar with the amount of forms and paperwork that are sent home from school. Sometimes all of the forms make it home to be completed and returned.
It is a rarely known fact that one of these forms can impact how much funding a child’s school receives each year.
This application is sent out at the beginning of the school year, and many parents are unaware of its importance, whether or not they qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.
The U.S. Department of Education defines Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as “improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged.”
The state initially determines funding for Title I-eligible school districts based on several different data sets and calculations. Title I is a provision of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and is the largest elementary and secondary education program, which supplements state and local funding for low-achieving children, especially in high-poverty schools.
According to the DOE, “Title I, Part A (Title I) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended, provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards. Federal funds are currently allocated through four statutory formulas that are based primarily on census poverty estimates and the cost of education in each state.”
After these funds are determined on a state level, on a districtwide level, each school’s individual funding eligibility is based on the low-income population of the school, which is determined by the district on the count of free- and reduced-lunch-eligible students.
The funds are then calculated for distribution by the school district by each LEA. The number of children from low-income homes needs to be at least 10 kids and at least 5 percent of the school-age population to qualify for funding. If 40 percent of the student enrollment is low-income, then the school is able to use the Title I funds for schoolwide programs, rather than just on programs targeted at disadvantaged students.
The data is compiled by the food service department for each district. Melanie Hernandez, office assistant for Food Service in the Calaveras Unified School District (CUSD), is the person who compiles, monitors and reports this data. She uses the applications to determine eligibility, then records the data and reports it to the state.
There are two ways that a child can receive free or reduced-cost lunches. One is by a process called “County Direct Certification,” which occurs if a family participates in a state program. This information is sent to the school district and the student is certified eligible. The other is by filling out the free and reduced lunch application.
Since many parents are not aware of the importance of this data, they may not fill out the survey. According to Hernandez, 54 percent of CUSD students are considered to be eligible for free or reduced lunch. Forty-six percent of students are considered to be “paid” eligibility. Of this 46 percent, 40 percent is due to “no data” on the student household. This leaves only 6 percent of households that are confirmed to be over the income limit or returned the survey with an option of “declining to submit.”
The California Department of Education then determines eligibility by using several different calculations to estimate need for funding. If 40 percent of a school is considered to be Free and Reduced Price Meal (FRPM) eligible, then Title I funds are dispersed to the school for use in schoolwide enrichment programs, and are up to the school and a group of volunteers called a school site committee to decide how to use the funds. These funds vary in quantity, but are typically in the $200 to $400 per student range.
Some schools are considered Consolidated Eligibility Provision (CEP) sites. CEP schools receive funding for all students for breakfast and lunch at no cost to the student.
An application was filled out for certain schools after the Butte Fire. These schools are Gold Strike High School, Mokelumne Hill Elementary, Rail Road Flat Elementary, San Andreas Elementary, Toyon Middle School and West Point Elementary.
Each of these schools has received free breakfast and meal services for the entire student population, beginning in 2015. This is the last year for the program. The district is trying to extend eligibility for this provision, so that students can continue receiving funds. As a district, for funding, the magic number is 55 percent FRPM. Last year CUSD made 56 percent FRPM, which allowed the district to receive additional CEP funding for these school sites for the 2018-2019 school year.
Since these school sites did not send out the Free and Reduced Lunch applications since they were considered CEP sites, a different survey was sent out to households. This survey is called the Household Economic Survey, and is how the district is able to determine how many households would otherwise qualify for free and reduced lunches.
“(It is) an impact for a lot of federal funding,” said Claudia Davis, associate superintendent, administrative services for Calaveras County Officer of Education
“Additional funding occurs under LCFF incrementally once the free and reduced percentage exceeds 55 percent of enrollment. CUSD is currently at 54 percent. One percent of student enrollment is approximately 30 students,” Hernandez said. “The Free and Reduced percentage is determined by several factors; direct certification based on county benefits and by parents/guardians submitting the Household Economic Survey or the Meal Application. Students are certified as eligible for free, reduced or paid status under the CDE Income Eligibility Guidelines. Also noteworthy is that all eligibility information received is protected by privacy laws and kept confidential,” she continued.
“Even if families do not plan to utilize food services for school meals, completing the Household Economic Survey or the Meal Application has the potential to increase education funding,” emphasized Hernandez.
These numbers also either qualify or disqualify a school for other programs. One of which is the ASES Grant, which is a federal grant for afterschool programs. A school must have a minimum percentage of FRPM students to qualify to apply for the grant. The state then disperses funds to each qualifying school beginning at schools with a 100 percent FRPM student population. In the 2017-2018 school year, funding ran out at schools with 84 percent FRPM.
Another program that is determined by FRPM numbers is something called “ERATE,” which is a telecommunications and internet access discount program, of which eligibility is based on the same poverty data. If schools qualify, they can get discounts for upgrading internet connections to rural school sites.
If parents have not filled out either the FRPM application or the Household Economic Survey (CEP sites) and would like to do so, they still have the opportunity throughout the school year. Those who have not filled out this form and would like to do so, can contact the office at their child’s school.