In other words, what starts with a free turkey sandwich, an apple and a carton of milk ends up driving more than a quarter of the district’s operating budget. Nationally we’re talking billions of dollars pegged to that one number.
It's not just state funding for school districts at stake. The $2 billion federal E-Rate program gives schools discounts of up to 90 percent on their telephone and internet service, based on free and reduced-price lunch rates. Many districts also use lunch to calculate federal funding for individual schools.
At Baltimore's Rognel Heights, that could mean as much as $187,000 in funding. Principal Marie Parfait-Davis says that's money that pays for extra help in the classroom, new technology or books.
“We desperately need all of our parents to fill out those lunch applications, because money is tied to those lunch applications,” Parfait-Davis says. “We definitely can’t afford to not get any extra funding.”