NEWARK, NJ - Families who do not submit school lunch forms could be costing the Newark school district millions of dollars.
National School Lunch Program forms gather family income data to determine if students qualify for free, reduced, or full-priced lunch. Eligibility for free and reduced-price lunch is used as a proxy to measure poverty.
Lunch form completion is critical for school district meal programs and determining eligibility for state and federal funded programs.
“What our families need to know is that filling out that application is one of the most important acts that we need the parents of all of our students to do,” Superintendent Roger León said during a board meeting on Tuesday
All students in Newark Public Schools eat breakfast and lunch for free. Lunch forms identify students who participate so the district can be reimbursed, School Business Administrator Valerie Wilson explained.
Incomplete lunch applications contributed to a $2.5 million deficit in the Food and Nutrition Service department for the 2018-2019 school year. The more self-sufficient the food program is, the less that goes from academic programs said Wilson.
The district is reimbursed for each student to cover costs of things like labor, food, milk, paper supplies, utilities regardless of eligibility status. Rates for free, reduced and paid meals are $3.48, $3.09, and $0.39 respectively.
Approximately 5,000 lunch applications are not filed each year in the district.
Students receive two meals every day, totaling in 360 meals for 180 days in a school year. Even if the returned applications were all for paid lunch, the district could receive at least $702,000 more for lunch reimbursement.
Online lunch applications become available on July 1. Each household is expected to submit lunch applications every school year.
Eligibility status from June of the recent school year is used to determine eligibility for the new school year until the end of September if a new lunch application was not submitted.
If lunch forms are not completed by October 1, a student will automatically be marked for paid lunch and reimbursement rates drop. School lunch data for the district then becomes less accurate. Families should fill out a new form whenever financial circumstances change.
"Filling out the lunch forms may not matter to students in the lunch line, but it matters when it comes to determining the amount of aid the district receives," said Wilson.
One lunch application brings about $5,000 in funding per child, Wilson explained.
Other revenue opportunities are also lost when the forms are not filled out. The forms are also tied to Title I which gives money to schools with large concentrations of low-income students and a subsidy for internet and technology services.
At the current rate of lunch application submission, the district budgeted $1.6 million for technology infrastructure expenses that could be lower and directed elsewhere.
School lunch forms accurately determine if students qualify for free, reduced, or paid lunch. The more students that qualify for free and reduced lunch, the less money the district has to spend.
“When we talk about revenue and allocating our resources, these are the things that are extremely important," said Wilson. "Every penny counts."