Not Just an Urban Challenge

Declining income has been a challenge in communities across Brown County over the last decade. While 29% of Brown County public school students were economically disadvantaged in 2005-06, the number has grown to 40% in 2014-15. And this change isn’t just happening in the urban areas. Nearly every school district in Brown County has seen an increase in the percentage of students they serve who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch.[1] This is a widespread challenge.

Increasing Poverty

Definition of Economically Disadvantaged

All school-related data reported by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction uses students who receive free or reduced-price lunch as the definition of economically disadvantaged. Students receive free lunch if their family income is 130% or less of the Federal Poverty Guideline (FPG), or they have a documented status of being homeless, migrant or runaway. They receive reduced-price lunch if their family income is 185% or less of the FPG.

The normal process is that families complete an application to receive free or reduced-price lunches for their children each year. The application documents their income level. Starting with the 2005-06 school year, Wisconsin introduced an alternative mechanism for documenting family eligibility. If there is other evidence that household income is at or below the income eligibility guidelines, the regular application does not need to be completed.[2] For example, a family that has already proven eligibility for food assistance or W-2 would be automatically eligible for free lunch. This change may have increased the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch in 2005-06, but since the change occurred ten years ago, it is unlikely that it has had any effect on the increasing numbers of economically disadvantaged students since that time.

The Federal Poverty Guidelines vary by the number of persons in the household, and they are adjusted each year to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index. For example, the FPG for the upcoming school year of 2015-16 is $15,930 for a household with two members and $24,250 for a household of four.


[1] Regional Education Laboratory, http://www.relmidwest.org/edmaps-app/#view=frlStoryMap&states=’WI’ (map no longer available online)

[2] https://dpi.wi.gov/news/releases/2018/annual-income-guidelines-set-school-and-day-care-meals