The state released its income guidelines on free and reduced-price lunches and breakfasts on Tuesday.

Several Utah school districts, some of which have a high percentage of students on free and reduced-price meals, are making it easier for parents to cope. They are simply offering free meals to the whole school or district.

For the 2008-09 school year, a family of four making less than $39,220 annual income is eligible to receive reduced-price meals. A family of four earning less than $27,560 annual income can receive free meals, according to Charlene Allert, state child nutrition programs assistant director.

"It is a real challenge for a family of four to make it on that kind of money," Allert said. "This really helps people who are having a hard time making ends meet — especially in this economy."

The free and reduced-price school meal applications come from the child's school or district, generally along with registration packets. The forms can be submitted any time during the school year. For more specifics, go to www.schools.utah.gov/cnp/.

Salt Lake District began a program Jan. 1, 1993, to offer free meals to all of its students who are on free and reduced-price lunches and breakfasts.

"We're such a high free and reduced population," said Kelly Orton, Salt Lake district director of support services.

Previous to the program, some students who were on reduced-price lunches weren't eating because their parents couldn't afford the cost, which was — and still is — 40 cents.

By increasing the number of students participating in the reduced-price lunch program, the district is receiving enough federal reimbursement to offset the cost of reduced-price lunches for each student and allowing for meals to be served at no cost.

This year, the district will receive $2.19 federal reimbursement for a reduced lunch and $2.59 federal reimbursement for a free lunch.

Once the program was implemented, Salt Lake District saw a 50.2 percent increase in reduced lunch participation over two years, going from 165,133 lunches during the 1992-93 school year to 248,090 lunches in the 1994-95 school year, according to district data.

Orton says he and other Salt Lake District officials believe all students nationwide who qualify for reduced and free lunches and breakfasts should simply receive free meals.

"The reduced cost is a deterrent," Orton said.

Since the National School Nutrition guidelines are up for reauthorization, which will begin in fall 2009, they are making sure Congress knows their opinions. The educators are speaking out via the Utah Chapter of the School Nutrition Association.

Four schools in Ogden District have such a high percentage of free and reduced lunches, they just give the whole school a free meal. Dee Elementary School has 93.7 percent on free and reduced lunch; Madison Elementary School has 97.1 percent; Odyssey Elementary School 95.3 percent; and Washington High School (alternative school), 95.3 percent.

"Ogden operates under a special federal provision that allows the district to serve the meals at no cost to the students," Allert said.

Millard District has a little over 50 percent of its students on free and reduced lunch, which is close to the state average, Allert said.

The district doesn't charge any of its students for breakfast, which is generally milk, half a cup of fruit mix and a grain product such as graham crackers or cold cereal.

The district about breaks even on the program, due to the federal reimbursement, said Jean Crafts, Millard District supervisor of child nutrition programs.

Federal reimbursement for breakfasts is $1.40 for free and $1.10 for reduced.

"The children can choose whether to participate," Crafts said.


E-mail: astewart@desnews.com