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MPS receives new software to better identify free, reduced students

Mustang Public Schools recently received software that will better identify students, who qualify for free and reduced meals.
Free and reduced meals identify students who are economically disadvantaged. However, all families are encouraged to apply even if they believe they’re not eligible.
The NutriKids software is through PowerSchool’s online registration. Caregivers can visit enrollment.mustangps.org to find the application.
What use to be by paper is now completely electronic, with families uploading all required documents, like proofs of residency and immunization records. A link to the free and reduced form can be found through enrollment applications.
Upon completing enrollment questions, the system will automatically be able to tell if an applicant qualifies for free and reduced meals and will notify them during the process with another link. The questions on the free and reduced form inquire about household size and income.
The software also counts all students in a household, who are in the district, despite applicants only filling out a form for one child.
While the district cannot require families to fill out the form, they encourage it for all applicants, Director of Communications Kirk Wilson said.
“It is a data-mining software that really has stepped up our game,” Chief Financial Officer Nancy McKay said.
Last October, the district’s child count was down about 500 students, due to many enrolling in virtual charter schools, like Epic. Because of this, MPS’ state aid was reduced by $3 million.
Identifying free and reduced students brings in more state funding, and better serves parents and students, McKay said.
The software was published April 7 when the district began collecting enrollment of 2021-2022 students. Existing 2021 students began enrollment forms in March.
About 1,000 new and existing students have already been enrolled for the 2021-2022 school year, student database administrator Margaret Brown said.
The district’s budget is driven by collecting data from new and existing students, McKay said. MPS reaches 71 square miles. The district has seen a wave of its students return to the district, with nearly 200 back.
After Oct. 1, 2020, the district had students return, however, since it was after the child count, funding did not follow them.
“The good news is we will get that state aid back this year because we’ve been able to identify them and better identify them because of our automated system,” McKay said.
She also added the district has made a significant investment with the $70,000 software. Before implementation of it, site principals were sending free and reduced flyers home with students in hopes parents would see it.
The district began looking into online registration solutions in 2018, and its Central Enrollment Office was established in 2019. Four to five systems were analyzed and the final one was chosen last fall.
“(Online) makes sense because it’s safer … and it’s more anonymous,” Brown said. “People probably don’t feel as conspicuous handing a piece of paper to somebody when you can do it from your phone.”
While there are many challenges surrounding recommending families complete free and reduced forms, McKay said it’s crucial because it affects how much federal funding the district receives. The federal government bases its funding on districts’ economically disadvantaged students.
MPS has about 12,300 students. About 3,400 students were identified last year as free and reduced students.
The funding for these students was approximately an additional $500,000 in state aid and $300,000 in federal monies.
MPS received about $900,000 in CARES Act funding last spring, as well.
The more money the district receives in state and federal funding, the more can go toward paying staff, maintenance and more, McKay said.
“It’s for the students,” she said.
There is not a deadline for the application, although Brown recommends parents complete it as quickly as they can, as it takes time to process.

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