Nearly 56 percent of Gwinnett County public school students are qualifying for free or reduced-price meals — an increase of 16 percent points in six years, data released Thursday shows.
The state’s largest school district has so many requests for free or discounted student meals that 19 school system employees worked from July through November processing applications.
Sloan Roach, district spokeswoman, said the increases in the number of students eligible for free and reduced lunch offer “a snapshot of the changes we have experienced in Gwinnett County.”
“The economic downturn has hit Gwinnett families hard,” Roach said.
Additionally, the 165,000 students in the Gwinnett public school system have “never been more diverse or less affluent,” she said.
“We know that for many of our students, the meals they receive at school may be the only meal they eat during the day,” Roach said.
Children in households receiving some government benefits are eligible for free meals, regardless of family income. Other children also qualify if their family household is under federal income rules.
Income requirements also exist for reduced-price eligibility.
In the 2006-2007 school year, 39.59 percent of the county’s students qualified for free or reduced-price meals. That percentage has increased every year since and was 53.73 percent in the last school year.
The school system is charging $1.25 for regular-priced breakfasts for all students and $2 for regular-priced lunches in the elementary schools this year after meal prices were increased 25 cents last year. In the current school year, the system is slated to serve 11 million breakfasts and 21.6 million lunches, according to data presented to the school board Thursday.
As of October 2012, 59.74 percent of the state’s 1.7 million public school students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals, according to data compiled by the Georgia Department of Education.
In other news, board members were told that the school system is moving to fill 38 vacancies, mostly at the high school level. Staff said the system, like the state, has seen a jump in retirements as some educators opted to leave in time for a pension benefit being phased out.
Since August, the school system has had 197 retirements, 93 among teachers, the board was told.