SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Almost half of the students in Springfield public school district come from families that are so close to the federal poverty line that they qualify for free or reduced lunches, the state education department said.
A Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education annual count found that 49.2 percent of Springfield's students qualified for free or reduced lunches during the 2009-10 school year. The statewide average for the same year was 46.9 percent.
Of the 11,922 Springfield students who qualified this year, 10,213 get free lunch and the others qualify for reduced rates.
The percentage has increased each year - up from nearly 40 percent since 2001-02 - even as enrollment in the 24,000-student district stagnated, The Springfield News-Leader reported.
"It's really been a steady progression. We've had our eye on poverty and, as it has grown, we've had to adjust," said Brian Hubbard, director of Title I, federal funding used to bridge the gap between low-income students and their peers. "We've been planning for it."
Students qualify if their household's income falls within a certain percentage of the federal poverty guidelines. For example, a family of four in Missouri qualifies for reduced lunches if the annual household income is below $41,348 and free meals if the income is below $29,055.