Arkansas schools could lose funding as less parents apply for free, reduced lunches

Since all students started eating free lunches, the number of free or reduced lunch applications have dropped drastically at districts across Arkansas.

CABOT, Ark. — With COVID-19 in mind, the federal government announced all students would eat free at school earlier this year through the end of December.

Although no one is required to pay, school districts across the state say it’s still important to apply for free or reduced lunches.

“What we found is, parents aren’t filling out the forms,” said Erin Wilkes, director of Food Services at Cabot Public Schools.

Since all students started eating free lunches, the number of free or reduced lunch applications have dropped drastically at districts across the state.

“Their students are still receiving the free meals, but it hurts the district in the long run,” said Wilkes.

For Cabot Schools, Wilkes said they are down 1,000 applications compared to this time last year.

“Where we are seeing a decrease that’s really alarming is in our lower grades, the elementary, where we’ve never seen a decrease before,” said Dr. Melanie Duerkop, director of Federal Programs at Cabot Public Schools.

It’ll hurt school districts across Arkansas financially because for every student who qualifies for free or reduced lunches, the district gets federal dollars.

“If they base my funding next year off any of the numbers I have now, we could see a vast decrease in funding,” said Dr. Duerkop.

For schools in Arkansas those dollars are spent on crucial services like interventionists, dyslexia services, social workers, and more.

That’s why school districts like Cabot are urging parents to still fill out the forms if they think their children qualify.

“Regardless of the district they are in, they can always reach out to their food service offices to find out where they can apply,” said Duerkop.

To access Cabot’s free and reduced lunch application, click here.