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posted: 2/28/2013 6:00 PM

Kaneland free lunches increase 35 percent

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The number of Kaneland students in the free lunch program has increased by 35 percent from last year, according to school officials.

Part of the increase comes because this year, Kaneland is participating in a pilot of a state program to automatically include some children in the program, without them having to apply for it through the school district. Many students the district previously thought were eligible only for a reduced-price lunch have moved to the "free" category, according to Julie-Ann Fuchs, assistant superintendent for business.

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But even accounting for that change, the overall number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches increased 21.7 percent over last year, and is 139 percent higher than in the 2008-09 school year.

In October, the state picked Kaneland as one of 350 districts to participate in a pilot of the U.S. Agriculture Department's Direct Certification Medicaid Demonstration. Kaneland had no choice in the matter, Fuchs said. Besides aiming at getting nutritious food to poor students, the project is also an attempt to reduce fraud and reduce administrative work for school districts.

The district receives a file each month from the Illinois State Board of Education of students who are eligible for free lunch. About 14 percent of Kaneland's students now qualify.

Students on the list qualify because they meet the USDA income guidelines for its free or reduced-price meals program; are classified as homeless, migrant, runaway, Head Start or foster child by a state agency such as DCFS; or receive or live in a household that receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families benefits.

The district is reimbursed for free and reduced-price lunches, Fuchs said. Where it is likely to affect its budget is in school fees. The fees are waived for children who are eligible for free lunch, and those eligible for reduced lunch pay half. Fuchs said it is too early to tell what the impact will be for this fiscal year.

In the 2008-09 school year, 234 students qualified for free lunch, and 100 for reduced. That rose to 519 for free lunch and 137 for reduced-price last school year.

This year 702 are qualified for free lunch and 97 for reduced. The total is 21.7 percent higher than last year.

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