Maryland has 30,000 more poor children who qualify for the federal school lunch program this school year compared with last year, a result of the recession and a push by Baltimore to get parents to sign up, according to a report by Advocates for Children and Youth.
City schools have signed up more than 9,000 new students for free and reduced-price meals, which means the district will receive more financial benefits from the state.
Maryland gives local school systems additional money for every poor student in their schools.
Across the state, 326,000 schoolchildren qualify for the program, and the largest number - 69,000 - are in the city. Michael Sarbanes, executive director for community engagement in the school system, said the district launched a campaign this school year to make sure every child who qualified was signed up. The district mailed letters to parents during the summer, used an automated system that called all parents in the fall and gave principals more data so they knew who in their school had signed up the year before for the meal program.
But the most extensive push came from the school district's community partners, including churches, Child First and the Greater Homewood Community Corp., which have been helping specific schools. Those groups, Sarbanes said, went door to door asking parents to sign up, handed out forms to parents as they dropped off their children and made other efforts.
"The big difference is the community rallying around and making sure we count all the kids who are eligible," Sarbanes said. In the city, 84 percent of students now qualify for the program.
But the recession also apparently had an impact, according to Advocates for Children and Youth.
In Baltimore County, nearly 3,000 more students signed up this school year. Anne Arundel, which saw the same percentage increase as the city, has 2,600 more poor students this year.
Prince George's has 67,000 children in the program, an increase of more than 6,000, or 11 percent.