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Digging Deeper: The struggle behind affording school lunch

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MAUSTON (WKOW) -- A growing number of students in Wisconsin are qualifying for free or reduced lunch based on their family's income.

In Wisconsin, if a family of four's yearly income is $33,475 or less, the children qualify for free lunch. If the family makes between $33,475.01 and $47,638, the children qualify for reduced lunch.

In rural districts like Mauston in Juneau County, that number has increased over the past decade.

While total enrollment in the district slightly declined these past 10 years, the number of students qualifying increased from 44.2 percent to 55.6 percent. It's a similar story across Juneau County, according to the school district's business manager Sue Goyette.

"The rural areas just have not been able to catch up, haven't had as much success as some of the urban areas," said Goyette. "[Growth] is just slower to reach the rural areas."

Terry Whipple, with the Juneau County Economic Development Corps. said that they have worked for years to get unemployment below 4 percent. There are livable wage jobs available, but often businesses can't find qualified people to take them.

"As people fall out of the workforce, because they don't have the skills that are needed, it becomes very difficult," he said.

He also said the older generation may not want to get training necessary to stay qualified in the ever changing work landscape.

With all that in mind, Goeyette said the Mauston School District has taken steps and acquired grant money to implement several programs throughout the district to prepare their students to take different types of jobs, and make a livable wage in the area when they graduate.

This includes a FabLab, where students can learn to master fabrication skills ahead of the workforce. Through those programs, they partner with local businesses as well.

"These kids can learn those types of manufacturing and fabrication skills that can help them have an advantage to go out in the world and make a good living, a good income," she said.

It won't happen overnight, but the long term goal is to provide a roadmap to financial success for future generations.

"There's a tremendous, tremendous amount of information out there at their fingertips," said Whipple. "What they need to know is how to manage their own education because they're going to have to adapt many times in the future."

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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