Oklahoma officially ranks last in summer lunch participation for 2017, the same spot it held in 2016.
That’s according to the Food Research and Action Center’s review of programs to feed low-income kids last year in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report shows fewer than one in 20 kids eligible for free and reduced-price lunches received summer meals.
The ranking seems not to square with state figures released last fall saying participation was up 14 percent from 2016. FRAC’s report, however, looks only at July.
"During June, you served twice as many kids as you do in July. So, that is a positive nugget for Oklahoma," said FRAC Director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs Crystal FitzSimons.
State efforts to boost participation did pay off in June and August. Actual lunches served in Oklahoma last June were up almost 10 percent from 2016. Lunches in July 2017 were down 4 percent from the prior year. August 2017 saw a 5 percent increase from August 2016.
Those efforts are being renewed this summer, as the Oklahoma State Department of Education continues its partnership with Hunger Free Oklahoma and other organizations trying to get meals to more kids. More than 600 sites will offer them, and families can find them by texting FOOD to 877877.
Hunger Free Oklahoma also partnered with Code for Tulsa to create a website where people can find summer meals.
In every month of summer 2017, Oklahoma fell well short of FRAC's goal of serving 40 kids for every 100 receiving free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. FitzSimons said that’s a big missed opportunity.
"If Oklahoma hit our goal in July, they would have served an additional 108,000 kids and they would have drawn down more than $8 million in federal funding," FitzSimons said.
Another benefit to summer lunch programs is those meals are typically offered in tandem with programs to stave off academic atrophy.
"And when kids don’t have access to that, it means that they’re not focused on learning, they’re not being engaged, and they’re going to have higher rates of summer learning slide," FitzSimons said.
That can put low-income kids further behind their more affluent peers when school resumes.