The number of students in District 51 that qualify for the free or reduced lunch program is soaring.

District officials tell KKCO NEWS that more than half the students now qualify. That's a first. But, it's not something to celebrate. What this means is that more and more families across Mesa County are entering or are near poverty levels.

According to this report, there are five schools in the district that are in what is called the 'severe range.' They are Clifton, Nicely, Dos Rios, Rocky Mountain and Chipeta. In fact, Chipeta Elementary Principal stated that 86 percent of their students are in the reduced or free program.

Other schools have seen a dramatic rise as well. Mount Garfield, Grand Mesa, and Fruitvale Elementary have seen an increase from 40 to 70 percent of students eligible.

You might think that the requirements ($45,000/year per family of four) for the program have risen or changed, but they have not. That means families incomes have dropped. Some say that speaks of the troubling issue with the economy of the Grand Valley.

The program is funded by federal tax funds and is separate from the schools' general monies.

Any solution ideas?