Some school districts reject federal offer of free lunch for all students, saying schools would lose money on the deal

Some school districts are rejecting a federal program that would provide free meals to all students in districts with a certain percentage of students in poverty, Jared Nelson reports for The Times Leader in Princeton, after the Caldwell County Schools decided against joining the Community Eligibility Program.

“Right now, we are not at the economically feasible point to do that. We would lose money,” District Food Service Director Will Brown told Nelson.

Nelson writes, “The district’s food service program is largely self-sufficient, earning income based on students and teachers who pay full-price for meals, and federal reimbursement for those meals and those provided to students qualifying for free or reduced-rate lunches.”

If everyone gets a free lunch, “You are losing all of your students on full paid status,” Brown said. “You’re losing that revenue.” He said the number of qualifying students is “not high enough to do that.”

In other words, Nelson writes, “Having a percentage sufficient to qualify … is different from having a percentage that would make the program viable locally. . . . Brown said other districts have signed on to the CEP program in prior years and been adversely affected. . . . The revenue earned each year allows the food services department to be able to use its own funds to cover the costs of most repairs, new equipment, and other expenses required during the school year and in the summer.

The program “is expanding nationwide this year, after being tested in 11 states, including Kentucky,” Nelson notes. Qualifications are based on students in households in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program, certain Medicaid recipients and foster children. (Read more; subscription required)

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