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LAUSD Learns the Price of a Free Lunch

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School cafeteria food doesn't have the draw it used to, it seems. The Daily News is reporting today that the LAUSD is having to lose out on millions of dollars in federal funds "because just half of its eligible students are taking advantage of a lunch program in which kids eat for free or at reduced prices."

Currently, the LAUSD receives $2.07-$2.47 for each meal they provide to a student for free or at a reduced price. According to the figures reported by the Daily News, 74 per cent of the 700,000 students in the district are thought to be eligible to participate in a subsidized meal program, but at the middle school and high school level only 37 per cent of the student body opts to participate, with just over half participating district-wide, which equals a financial loss. Furthermore, "according to a study this year by the Council of the Great City Schools, LAUSD's secondary-student participation [in a subsidized meal program] rate ranked 12th lowest among 20 of the country's largest urban public school districts."

Could it be what they're serving that's a turn off? Earlier this year the LAUSD announced they would be altering the menus in order to meet the national standards of nutrition, shunning desserts, and replacing regular french fries with baked substitutes, as well as offering wheat bread, low-fat dairy, and more salad and fruit. Soda has been banned district-wide since 2004. While elementary aged school children are required to remain on campus for lunch, and the cafeteria an easy option, older students with permission to leave campus tend to frequent eateries nearby their schools. With so many fast food joints and convenience stores in urban areas, it would not be surprising to find that students are more content to eat what they want and pay for it rather than accept the district's meal plan. However, according to the Daily News, "officials attributed the dismal participation rate to a variety of factors, including shorter lunch periods, a social stigma associated with the special lunch tickets and long lines that dissuade many students from eating at all."

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Efficiency in the lunch program is just one concern, with the need to make the application process easier for households eligible to participate in the free or reduced-fee plan, as well as getting the cafeteria lines to move quicker. It seems the LAUSD can add this loss of funds to the growing number of administrative and fiscal headaches they must combat.

Photo by bookgrl via Flickr