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Status of Education in Rural America
NCES 2007-040
June 2007

1.8. Students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch in public schools


In 2003–04, rural public schools had a larger proportion of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch than suburban public schools, but had a smaller proportion of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch than public schools in cities or towns. The percentage of public school students in rural remote areas attending a moderate-to-high poverty public school was higher than the percentages in all other locales except large and midsize cities.

During the 2003–04 school year, 41 percent of public elementary and secondary school students nationwide were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (table 1.8). In rural areas, the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (38 percent) was lower than the national percentage. It was also lower than the percentage in both cities (53 percent) and towns (43 percent), but was higher than in suburban areas (31 percent).

Using the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch as a proxy for the poverty level within a school (for a comparison of poverty definitions see appendix B), moderate-to-high poverty schools are defined, for the purposes of this analysis, as schools with more than 50 percent of students eligible. Using this definition—combining the last two columns of table 1.8 to include "51 to 75 percent" and "more than 75 percent" eligible schools—35 percent of students nationwide attended moderate-to-high poverty public schools. The percentage of students in rural areas attending moderate-to-high poverty public schools (30 percent) was less than the national percentage. The percentage of rural students attending these schools was lower than the percentage in both cities (54 percent) and towns (36 percent), but was higher than the percentage of students in suburban areas (24 percent) (figure 1.8).

Within rural areas, however, the percentage of students attending moderate-to-high poverty public schools varied markedly. Specifically, 45 percent of students in remote rural areas attended moderate-to-high poverty public schools, compared with 32 percent in distant rural areas and 23 percent in fringe rural areas.

Comparing the percentages of students attending moderate-to-high poverty public schools in rural fringe and rural remote areas to other, nonrural, locales further highlights the differences occurring within rural areas. The percentage of students attending moderate-to-high poverty public schools in rural fringe areas (23 percent) was lower than the percentage of students attending such schools in suburban areas (24 percent). On the other hand, only large cities and midsize cities had larger percentages of students attending moderate-to-high poverty public schools than remote rural areas (66 and 49 percent vs. 45 percent) (table A-1.8).

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