Change Indicator

Economically disadvantaged students (formerly free and reduced lunch) in Maine

Economically disadvantaged students (formerly free and reduced lunch)

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Why This Indicator Matters

School meals support children in being fully able to focus and learn. Many children rely on having a school meal or meals each day because they experience food insecurity at home. FMI the National School Lunch Program

What the data shows
The percent of Maine children in public schools peaked in 2016 at 47.8%. The rate declined to 34.9% for 2022 and has been inching upward to 35.3% of 2023 and 36.8% for 2024 (September 2023-June 2024).

In terms of county variation, in 2023-2024 school year, four counties had rates above 50%: Piscataquis, 56%, Somerset, 55%, and Oxford and Franklin at 54%.  Meanwhile, three counties, Cumberland, Sagadahoc and York Counties, had rates oof students living in economically disadvantaged families at 27%-28%.
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Definition and Source



The number and percent of school children who live in families that fit federal guidelines eligible to receive free or reduced-price school lunches through the National School Lunch Program. Since March 2020, Maine has universal access to free school provided breakfast and lunch- but the rate of students' families within national income guidelines, 130% and 185% of federal poverty levels is the federal definition for receiving either free or reduced lunch. Having this family income data helps to quantify local community needs. Students with family income levels below 185% of poverty levels are noted as "economically disadvantaged" students.


Data represent school years. Year indicated is the spring term of the school year, such that 2024 data represents 2023-2024 school year. The data for the school year is published in January and is based on who enrolls in school lunch by October of that school year.

Since March 2020, Maine has had a policy of universal access to free school provided breakfast and lunch- but the rate of students' families within national income guidelines helps to quantify local community needs. Because of this universal access, school districts may find accurately determining the rates of students in families at 130% and 185% difficult to obtain, since families do not need to provide this for their families to qualify. 

All Maine public elementary and junior high schools are required to participate in the program, while high schools have the option of participating. School children qualify for the National program for free school lunches if their family's income does not exceed 130% of the federal poverty level and reduced lunches if their incomes are between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty level. As of June 2023, this was $39,000 for a family of 4 for a free lunch and $55,500 for a reduced lunch.

The national Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a option for schools in low-income areas. CEP allows schools with high poverty rates to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications. In CEP schools, while some students may have family incomes above the free lunch rate, the student qualifies because the school qualifies. For CEP schools, the reported rate of eligibility is used. Sometimes this is based on every students family income and other times, schools report 99-100% arbitrarily, regardless of the actual rate since they are not required to collect individual applications in high poverty areas that qualify for CEP status.

Last Updated

December 2023