Look Who Is Coming to Lunch
In FFY2005 43.5% of the K-12 student enrollment were approved for free or reduced-price school lunches under the National School Lunch Program administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To be eligible for this program benefit the student must live in a family with income below 185% of the federal poverty level. The 43.5% figure for FFY2005 is the highest on record in the current Program. In 4 states over 60 percent of the K-12 children are approved for subsidized school lunches: District of Columbia (69.8%), Mississippi (65.3%), Louisiana (63.5%),and New Mexico (60.6%). In five states less than 30 percent of the children are eligible for subsidized school lunches: New Hampshire (19.8%), North Dakota (26.2%), Connecticut (28.5%), Massachusetts (28.6%) and Vermont (28.9%).
The share of K-12 students eligible for subsidized lunches has increased by 6.5% from 37.0% in FFY1993 to 43.5% in FFY2005. The rate of growth in the share of school children living below 185% of poverty has accelerated since FFY2001 when it was 40.0%. Between FFY1993 and FFY2005 the share of K-12 enrollment approved for subsidized school lunches increased in 49 states and decreased in just two states. The largest increases were is: Oregon (13.8%), Indiana (13.5%), Tennessee (13.4%), District of Columbia (13.2%), Idaho (12.9%) and Illinois (12.8%). The two states with declines were South Dakota (14.4%) and North Dakota (1.9%). (The South Dakota data for FFY1993 look fishy to me.)
These children living below 185 percent of poverty represent a very large and growing share of our country's future workforce, voters, citizens and taxpayers. How well we higher educate them when they reach college age will largely determine this country's future economic prosperity, government tax revenues, domestic tranquility, political engagement and vitality and social cohesion. We are doing a simply terrible job of higher educating them now. Our federal, state and institutional policies have been turning away from meeting the preparation, financing and support needs of children from low income families since 1980. We should ponder carefully what we are doing (or not doing) and where we are taking the country with our actions (or inaction) today.