The number of Connecticut students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches increased by 4 percent this year, state data shows, an indication of growing need for children and families in the state.
According to official numbers used for calculating school funding, Connecticut had 202,571 students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch in October 2022, up more than 8,000 from the prior year. Additionally, Connecticut saw a 10 percent spike in English learners, even as the total number of students in the state dropped slightly.
In both categories, most of the increases came in Connecticut’s largest cities, according to analysis from the nonprofit School + State Finance Project. Lisa Hammersley, the group’s executive director, said the new data underscores a need to boost education funding during the current legislative session.
“We think it definitely reinforces the need for the state to invest in K-12 education,” Hammersley said. “When you have changing student demographics that reflect that student need is increasing, the state obviously needs to step in and invest.”
The number of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch and the number of English learners are two of several categories that determine how much funding a school district receives each year through the state’s Education Cost Sharing project.https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/VqPJ3/1/
The School + State Finance Project is one of the key groups pushing a bill that would reduce disparities in K-12 school funding in part by fully funding the ECS formula beginning in the 2025 fiscal year. Though the measure has support from many key legislators, Gov. Ned Lamont has not endorsed it and did not include funding for it in his recent budget proposal.
While initial estimates put the cost of the bill at about $250 million, Hammersley said the new data means it would actually cost about $292 million.
Though Connecticut is currently providing free lunch for all public school students through the end of this school year, state law uses the share of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches as a proxy for a district’s socioeconomic status. Students qualify for free or reduced-price meals when their families fall below certain income thresholds.
According to state data compiled by the School + State Finance Project, the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches decreased notably during the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, likely in part due to federal benefits such as the expanded child tax credit, before rising again this year. The expiration of the expanded tax credit and other relief programs last winter has contributed to a rise in food insecurity statewide.
Bridgeport saw the largest jump in student eligible for free or reduced-price lunch in 2022-23, state data shows, followed by New Haven and Waterbury. Bridgeport also had the largest jump in English learners, followed by Danbury, Stamford and Hartford.
Source: CT Insider