The number of local students in need who are receiving free or low-cost meals from schools hasn’t gone up this year, and officials are hopful that is a sign families’ financial situations are starting to improve.
The percentages of Center Grove, Greenwood and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson students enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program stayed the same as they were last year. And the rates for the remaining school districts didn’t rise or fall more than 1 percent, according to numbers from all six public school districts.
That was a surprise for food service workers, who had seen the number of applications for the program meet or exceed the amount from last year.
What the steady rates mean is unclear. The number of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch is one of several factors, such as foreclosure rates and unemployment numbers, that can be used to measure how well the economy is doing, Ball State assistant professor of marketing Susan Brudvig said.
The number of students receiving free and reduced-price meals has been consistently rising across the state for the past five years, and 46 percent of Indiana’s students got help paying for lunch during the 2010-11 school year, Brudvig said.