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Food for thought: Growth in Bay Area checks will cost MUSD

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POSTED July 27, 2017 1:05 a.m.

Growth could end up costing Manteca Unified millions of dollars.
That’s because the buyers of the surge of new homes being built in Manteca and Lathrop are primarily people with healthier Bay Area paychecks. That means  they don’t qualify for free and reduced lunches that — under state guidelines — is not available to a household of four with a gross annual income of $45,510 or more.
Having a “wealthier” community is one of those “good news, bad news” things. It lifts up the community as a whole but it ultimately could cost the district big bucks.
That’s because the meal program is one of four categories the state uses to provide impacted districts with “supplemental concentration.” The other three are the number of Title I students, the number of foster students as well as homeless students, and the number of English as a Second Language students. What is at stake is $24 million a year for Manteca Unified.
When the percentage of free and reduced meal eligible students slips to 55 percent, the money the district receives can be only used to supplement the education costs for those students. Keep in mind this has nothing to do with paying for meals. It assumes students from those households have a greater need when it comes to learning hence the additional education funding from the state.
When the percentage of students on free and reduced meals is above 55 percent, districts have the ability to use the money as they see fit across the entire student body. Manteca Unified Director of Business Services Jacqui Breitenbucher noted the district has refrained from using any of the money to cover general classroom teacher salaries to avoid being in a jam if and when the additional money goes away. Instead it goes to help pay for positions such as reading specialists, teacher aides and such.
The percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced meals in Manteca Unified has been steadily dropping in recent years. It was at 65 percent in the 2015-2016 school year and slipped to 62 percent in the 2016-2017 school year. It is a trend that the district expects to continue in the coming years.
The impact on a district is significant. Ripon Unified has just 30 percent of its students that qualify for free and reduced meals. By being below the 50 percent threshold, they do not receive supplemental funding from the state. As a result Ripon Unified has roughly $1,000 less to spend on educating a student than Manteca Unified.
It is just one example of the Byzantine system in place when it comes to how public schools are funded in California. The supplemental concentrations were designed to bring parity to state funding by conceding certain social-economic conditions can lead to more challenges to educate specific students.

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