The Surge in Free and Reduced Lunch Applicants in CMS

The new Charlotte Regional Indicators Project website will go live in the next few months. This is the first in a series of articles leading up to that date that will provide analysis of some of the data being tracked by the Indicators Project.

Nothing is more heartbreaking than seeing a child go without.  During tough economic times, more families and children must face their daily struggles with fewer resources.  As the unemployment rate increased over the past several years, these struggles became more challenging and affected more people in the community.  Last school year was no exception in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System (CMS).  More children than ever applied for free and reduced lunch during the 2009-10 school year.1  

Over the past four school years, the percentage of students applying for free and reduced lunch has increased in CMS at a rate that has eclipsed the rate of growth for the student body.  During the 2006-07 school year, 47.7% of all students applied for free and reduced lunch, accounting for 60,826 students.  The following school year, 2007-08, had a slight increase of 1,676 more students applying for free and reduced lunch than in 2006-07, accounting for 47.9% of all students in CMS.2, 3

The trend of increasing numbers of applicants for free and reduced lunch continued through the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years as seen in Figure 1.  The 2008-09 school year had an increase of 4.3% in the number of students applying for free and reduced lunch, accounting for 48.8% of all students, or 2,700 more students than in 2007-08. During this same time (2007-08 to 2008-09), the average daily membership* only increased 2.4% as seen in Figure 2.1, 2, 3

Figure 1

The 2009-10 school year proved to be the most difficult financial period thus far, with the increase in the number of free and reduced lunch applicants expanding upward by 2,789 students compared to the 2008-09 school year as seen in Figure 1.  This increase created a tipping point with over half (50.9%) of all students in CMS now applying for free and reduced lunch.1, 2

Last school year (2009-10), 53% (34,783) of all elementary students in CMS applied for free and reduced lunch.  Fifty two percent of all middle school students applied for free and reduced lunch, encompassing 15,277 students.  Forty six percent of all high school students applied for free and reduced lunch, accounting for 17,295 students.1

The number of free and reduced lunch applicants in 2009-10 produced a 12% surge from 2006-07.  The increase is troubling, especially when the overall student population of CMS only grew by 4.6% during this time, as seen in Figure 2, below.1, 2, 3

Figure 2

As the number of applicants for free and reduced lunch increases at a greater rate than overall student population, a greater number of families within CMS now face the daily struggles they once thought could never affect them.  While the economy needs more time to recover, with the 2010-11 school year already underway, one must stop to think just how many more students are going without for yet another year.

-- Claire Apaliski

 

*Note:  The Average Daily Membership is the total number of school days within a given term - usually a school month or school year - that a student's name is on the current roll of a class, regardless of his/her being present or absent, as in the "number of days in membership" for that student. The sum of the "number of days in membership" for all students divided by the number of school days in the term yields ADM. The final average daily membership is the total days in membership for all students over the school year divided by the number of days school was in session. Average daily membership is a more accurate count of the number of students in school than enrollment.3                                        

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.  Free & Reduced-Price Lunch (FRL) October 22,2009.  Retrieved from http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/cmsdepartments/StudentPlacement/PlanningServices/Documents/October%202009%20Free%20%20Redu%20Percentages%20with%202008.pdf

2  North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Free & Reduced Meals Application Data. Retrieved from: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/resources/data/

3  North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.  NC DPI Average Daily Membership.  Retrieved from: http://www.ncpublicschools.org/fbs/accounting/data/