At the beginning of the school year, parents are always asked to fill out a form to see if their child and/or children are eligible to receive free and/or reduced priced meals. Throughout the year, parents may receive reminders about filling out those forms.

But why? What difference does it make? What benefits are there?

According to area school district officials, it means a lot and can make a big difference, especially when it comes to being eligible for grant money.

Osakis Superintendent Randy Bergquist believes that it might come down to pride as to why parents don’t want to fill out the form. Parents don’t want their child singled out in the lunch line.

However, Bergquist, who has inside knowledge about it, said it’s not like the olden days of different colored tickets and other students knowing who was receiving a free meal. Nowadays, everything is electronic and no one knows, not even the lunch lady, who is receiving a regular-priced meal, reduced-price meal or a free meal.

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“Everything is confidential,” said Bergquist. “Teachers don’t even know.”

But Bergquist couldn’t stress enough the importance of at least filling out the forms to see if the student(s) would be eligible. Because if students are, it means added revenue to the district – compensatory revenue – which could mean extra help in reading, math or other core curriculum; added teachers or teacher aides to provide more individualized instruction; purchasing instructional materials and technology items; or maybe implementing programs to reduce truancy, encourage graduation, and providing a safe and secure learning environment.

Last year, the Osakis School District received $229,406 in compensatory revenue, said Bergquist.

“If we were to go with what we have today, we would only get about $111,867,” he said. “That’s a change of approximately $117,000. So, you can see we need parents to complete these forms.”

Bergquist said right now, the district only has about 19% of its student population receiving these meal benefits.

“We are going to take a hit next year,” he said. “I am worried about our budget.”

Superintendent Don Peschel with the Brandon-Evansville School District said the free and reduced-lunch count has several implications for the district. He, too, said it impacts the district’s compensatory revenue and funding. And, it affects grants that are respective to the Minnesota State High School League and Pathways.

“It is very important for families to apply and the information is all confidential,” said Peschel. “This year, our percentage is about 35%, which is down from last year.

On average, Bergqust said Osakis has about 30-35% of its students who receive free and/or reduced-price meals. That is lower than they would like because many grant applications require a district to have at least 40%.

“That really handcuffs us,” said Bergquist in regard to which grants the school district can apply for.

Janeen Peterson, the Food and Nutrition Services director for Alexandria Public Schools, said the district requests that families fill out a new form at the beginning of each school year. This is even the case if a student was eligible the previous year.

She said that by qualifying for the meal benefits, families could also receive funding for other programs, including school activities.

For the Alexandria Public Schools, Peterson said applications help the school qualify for education funds and discounts.

Last year, according to Trevor Peterson, Business Services director, the district received a total of $1.04 million of funding based on the number of families who qualified for the meal benefit program. This is equivalent to almost 28% of the student population, he said.

Bergquist said besides funding for the district, which is important, it is important for the students and their parents.

“It is one less meal parents have to worry about and it may be the only healthy meal a student gets in a day,” he said. “And that’s what it boils down to. We just want the kids to have at least one nutritious, healthy meal to eat in their day. There are so many kids who don’t have enough to eat. This can help with that.”

Contact your school district for more information or visit each school’s website. Some school districts have the forms online. Or you can contact Alexandria Public Schools at 320-762-2141, Brandon-Evansville School at 320-834-4084 and Osakis School District at 320-859-2191.