A declining number of Haines School students qualifying for free or reduced-charge meals could spell the end of a popular “sack supper” program next year.
The drop also could reduce the amount the Haines Borough School District receives in grants, including one that provides a $44,000 discount on the district’s Internet and phone service.
The percentage of students qualifying for help with meals is a measure of need used by several sources of funding, said Ashley Sage, district secretary.
School officials who suspect the number of eligible students has been underreported are encouraging eligible parents to sign up for the program.
“I think people forget they have to renew from year to year,” said Gen Armstrong, the district’s food program coordinator. “Parents have to apply. There’s a simple, one-page application.”
To receive federal compensation for “sack suppers,” at least 50 percent of the student body must qualify for free or reduced meals. In October 2011, 57 percent qualified. But at the end of last month, only 47 percent of students qualified, Armstrong said.
Those who qualify include homeless students, foster children, students covered under Migrant Education funding and ones from families below certain income thresholds. Income thresholds include $35,000 for a family of two, $44,000 for a three-member family and $53,317 for a family of four.
Armstrong said dropping below 50 percent would mean the district would lose the $4.63 per student compensation it receives from the federal government for the after-school meal program. “I don’t think we can make it float without the reimbursement. We’d have to charge pretty much that same amount per student, and with the cost of food, it wouldn’t be worth it,” she said.
Although she already reported the 47 percent figure at the start of this month, Armstrong said she’s confident it can be bumped up. “I think I can qualify it because I send monthly figures (to the government) for reimbursement. I feel I can justify a change in that number at any time.”
Armstrong said the “sack suppers” program has been popular, with an average of 98 students – about a third of the student body – participating each day. The meals are free to students.
Meal discount eligibility forms are available at the school office and can be returned there or mailed to the district at P.O. Box 1289, Haines, AK 99827.