Changes in the federal government’s school lunch program have led to confusion in the first days of school at Oakland Unified School District, according to parents and officials. However, the district says meals are available for all children who want them.

Now, the government requires that each qualifying child be registered for the Free and Reduced Lunch program for the schools to receive funding for an equal number of meals, according to district spokesman Troy Flint. Before, schools in which 85 percent or more of the students were from low income homes would get funding to feed all the children at a school. About 20 of Oakland’s public schools fit that description. The district now needs applications from each student in the schools to receive compensation from the federal government.

An online application for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program is HERE.

“Obviously we will serve lunch to any child,” who needs one regardless of whether they have filled out an application, Flint said. The district will use its own money or money from last year’s lunch program to make up the difference, he said.

But the message about registering children hasn’t gotten out to every family, apparently. Not every eligible child has been registered. Moreover, some neighborhood groups and parents fear that their schools’ lunch programs are being curtailed or will shut down. Some have begun plans to supplement lunches at nearby schools and have started a Facebook campaign to get others to do the same, at “Free lunch for Oakland School Children”

But Flint said the fears are overblown.

“We’re not eliminating free and reduced lunch — quite the opposite: we’re trying to keep funding for the program at current levels — but this is more difficult than in the past because of changes in the funding model tied to LCFF,” he said in an interview. LCFF is the Local Control Funding Formula: the statewide system that now determines how money flows to districts.

He sent a letter on behalf of the district to all school principals to let their families know of the changes.

“As you may know, major changes have been made to the way districts receive funding for Free and Reduced Lunch,” the district wrote to principals. “EACH AND EVERY student must submit a correctly completed form in order for the district to receive FRL funding for that student.

This puts MILLIONS of dollars for schools at risk unless we can register every qualifying student for the Free and Reduced Lunch program, including at the Provision 2 schools, where formerly FRL qualification was assumed and no applications were required.”

He added that part of the confusion stems from a new effort in the state legislature to get children’s eligibility for the federal lunch program to reflect the cost of living in their home states. Currently, eligibility for enrollment in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program is the same for children across the country, family income of $42,600 for a family of four, regardless of the regional differences in cost of living.

About The Author

Barbara Grady is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach her at

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