A CLOSER LOOK: education can mean more than books — for some, it means a meal

A Closer Look

Students get free meals through fall 2021.

Elementary School Students at Lunch break in School Cafeteria. Getty Images.

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Nationally, more than 26 million children receive low-cost or free lunches each school day.

In Arkansas, during this unusual time due to COVID-19, all students qualify for free meals until the fall of 2021. School districts are reimbursed for meals based on “children’s free, reduced price, or paid eligibility status,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is federally funded and in 1988 it was expanded to include after-school snacks. Also, school breakfasts and a special milk program are provided.

NSLP was signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1946; here’s how many were served

  • 1946: 7.1 million
  • 1970: 22.4 million
  • 1980: 26.6 million
  • 1990: 21.1 million
  • 2000: 27.3 million
  • 2010: 31.8 million
  • 2016: 30.4 million
Getty Images.

NUTRITIONAL REQUIREMENT FOR SCHOOL LUNCHES, RECOMMENDED BY THE DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR AMERICANS

  • No more than 30 percent of an individuals calories come from fat.
  • Less than 10 percent from saturated fat.
  • One-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories.
  • Decisions about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities.

The Arkansas Department of Education reports 479,432 enrollments from grades PK-12; there are more than 1,100 schools. Below is a breakdown by race/ethnicity.

4 NORTHWEST ARKANSAS SCHOOL DISTRICTS

There are 23 schools — 16 elementary, four middle, and three high schools at Rogers Public Schools. There are 15,600 students enrolled and 60% qualify for free or reduced lunch prices. “Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided the funding for all public school children to eat at no cost to them this year,” said Communications Director Ashley Kelley Siwiec.

Over the summer, the Rogers School District also tried to keep meals, including breakfasts, to help struggling families.

At Fayetteville Public Schools (FPS) all students received free meals this school year, according to FPS Child Nutrition Director Ally Mrachek. The district has more than 10,000 students in grades K-12. There are 15 schools — one high school, four middle/intermediate, eight elementary, and two special schools.

“Students are served lunch, on a tray, in the cafeteria, when they attend school,” said Mrachek, “and through a weekly emergency meal pack program when they are learning virtually.”

When families need assistance with meals outside of the school cafeteria they are referred to FPS social workers. “[This way] we can best determine how to meet food needs, whether it’s through our meal pack program, the district’s Outback Food Pantry, other school-based food pantries in the district, or additional community food resources,” said Mrachek.

Springdale Public Schools (SPS) has approximately 22,000 students from K-12. “Slightly more than 71 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch,” said SPS Communications Specialist Rick Schaeffer.

Throughout the spring and summer meals were distributed by families picking up meals at several school locations, and meals were served at the schools, too. About 2,500 students are taking classes virtually this year. They are able, if they choose, to pick up meals at their zoned schools,” said Schaeffer.

At SPS many meals are served in the classroom and social distancing is in place. The cafeterias are being used by smaller numbers of students. Meals are served in containers that than normal buffet style.

Pre-COVID-19, families whose children attended Bentonville Schools would complete and submit free and reduce lunch applications, according to Communications Director Leslee Wright. This would allow the district to measure the number of recipients in any given school. “Currently, any student can choose breakfast and lunch options at no cost in accordance with USDA directives. Free meals are available to American children until summer of 2021,” said Wright.

The district has more than 17,000 students in grades K-12 and nearly two dozen schools — two are high schools, Bentonville High School and Bentonville West High School.

FOOD RESEARCH & ACTION CENTER

For 50 years, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) has been the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States, according to its website.

FRAC’s School Breakfast Scorecard showed Arkansas in the Top 10 states for the ratio of free and reduced-price school breakfast to lunch participation.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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