LAND O' LAKES - The percentage of Pasco County students who qualified for the free or reduced-price meal program continued to climb this past school year, a possible indication that many area families still struggle to make ends meet in a slowly recovering economy. The school district's Food and Nutrition Services Department reports that 56.1 percent of students were on the subsidized-meal program at the end of the 2012-13 academic year, up from 55.6 percent in 2011-12. Pasco schools enroll about 66,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and the percentage who qualify for the federally funded meal program has been rising steadily over the last several years. For example, in 2008-09, 48.6 percent of students were in the meal program. That jumped to 51.7 percent in 2009-10 and 55.4 percent in 2010-11, according to district records. Eligibility is determined by a mixture of family size and income.
For example, a family of four with an annual income of $30,615 or less would qualify for free meals. That same size family would qualify for reduced-price meals with an annual income of $43,568 or less. Students who receive the reduce-price meals pay 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch. Full prices for cafeteria meals are $1.25 for breakfast and $2 for lunch in elementary schools, and $1.40 for breakfast and $2.50 to $3 for lunch in middle and high schools. Pasco schools have begun taking meal-program applications for the 2013-14 school year. Families need to apply even if they were on the meal program last school year. The eligibility status from the previous school year expires 10 days into the new school year. Applications are available online at the Food and Nutrition Services Department's website at www .pasco.k12.fl.us/free_reduced. Beginning Aug. 1., applications also will be available at any school's cafeteria or administration office, at student orientation and at schools throughout the year. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 371-1853 Twitter: @RBlairTBO