Free meals coming to 14 district schools

  • Wednesday, August 13, 2014

This school year, students at 14 schools in Georgetown County School District will begin eating breakfast and lunch for free.

Jan Knox, school nutrition director for the district, announced to the school board, at its Aug. 5 meeting, that 14 of the schools meet the requirements to participate in a new United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) program, the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).

According to the Food Research and Action Center’s website, the CEP is a part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The provision allows schools to forgo individual applications for free or reduced meals, and instead provides free breakfast and lunch for all students if at least 40 percent of the student body is identified as low income.

For the purposes of the provision, low income includes those who are in foster care, homeless, migrant, living in households that receive food stamps or cash assistance, or are distributed food on an Indian reservation.

The school is later reimbursed with federal funds calculated using a formula “based on the number of ‘identified students,’” the website states.

The CEP began in the 2011-2012 school year in three states. More states were added each year, and starting this school year all 50 states may participate in the provision.

Knox said 14 of the school district’s 18 schools – all of the elementary schools and all of the Title 1 schools – are eligible.

She said currently some of the schools are serving 90 percent of their students free or reduced cost meals.

“Now no parents will be paying money to the school, which gives parents a chance to use those resources for other means for their child’s education,” Knox said.

Superintendent Randy Dozier said the new program will hopefully fill gaps in the food service.

“There are a number of children not eating now that could be. Many of them are eligible, but they don’t fill out the applications. And others charge their accounts to pay for the meals, but have unpaid bills at the end of the year because they can’t pay for them. All of those things will be gone now, the application forms and the school district trying to recoup unpaid expenses.”

Knox reported other states that piloted the program each recorded about a 5 percent increase in the number of students eating breakfast and a 8 to 10 percent increase in the number of students eating lunch.

She said the school district has seen a similar increase when they implemented universal breakfast at some of the schools.

Schools that will not participate in the CEP – Georgetown High, Waccamaw High, Waccamaw Middle and Waccamaw Intermediate schools – will maintain the previous system of applications to identify those individuals who qualify for free or reduced cost meals.

“The goal is to add those four if we can,” Dozier said.

A letter will go home with students at the 14 eligible schools to notify parents. Information will also be posted on school and district websites.

“We ask you consider to let us do this,” Dozier told the school board, “and have a trial year. We can look at the revenues and if it doesn’t pay for itself we can revisit it.”

The board had no objections and gave a general consensus to pursue the program.

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