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Free & reduced lunch numbers drop
Students during lunch at Woodward School. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

 An improving economy has reduced the number of Manteca Unified School District students receiving free and reduced meals.
 At one point, 11,860 or 49.3 percent of the district’s 23,000 students received free meals. That has dropped to 11,618 or 48.58 percent.
Students receiving reduced meals went down from 11.98 percent or 2,845 to 11.18 percent or 2,673.
The overall drop came despite state-level changes that expanded eligibility rules.
Much of the financial stress within the Manteca Unified boundaries is driven by the fact that housing is exceptionally expensive in Manteca and Lathrop for San Joaquin Valley communities. City of Manteca research shows that under federal standards  nearly half  of the city’s households are stressed when it comes to housing expenses including utilities and such because more than 30 percent of their overall household income goes to housing. That is a direct result of sky-high housing prices in the Bay Area that are sending buyers east over the Altamont Pass to look for options that are affordable for them.
District Superintendent Jason Messer noted that the Nutritional Services staff takes its role seriously in making sure students don’t suffer.
Not only is their goal high quality meal service that exceeds federal and state nutritional standards but to also educate students about good food choices and nutrition.
“Manteca Unified Nutritional Services are highly regarding throughout California and the United States,” noted Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke.
Manteca Unified serves 16,000 lunches a day.
The free and reduced lunch program uses a sliding scale to determine eligibility. For example, a household with four in it making $31,525 a year qualifies for free student meals. A family of four with an annual household income between $31,526 and $44,863 is eligible for reduced meals. A singe parent with a child that makes less than $20,709 qualifies for free meals while those making between $20,710 and $29,471 qualify for reduced meals.
But because of how well the food service is operated — it covers all of its costs without being subsidized by the general fund — the district is able to drop the 25 cent charge the federal government usually requires for those that qualify for reduced meals and not free meals.
District leaders have noted students who have good nutritional meals and aren’t hungry are better behaved, have better attention, and retain more of what they learn. Retention of learning is one of the driving forces behind the federal effort to make sure kids have at least one nutritional meal Monday through Friday during the summer.
The district also serves breakfast in elementary classrooms and offers a supper-style meal at some of the after school program sites.
That is in additional to a summer lunch program operated throughout the district.