Thousands of students in the Fayette County Public Schools, along with those in many other public school districts across Kentucky, will be paying a little more forlunch this year.
The price boosts apply only to students who pay full price for their lunches. Students who receive free-or-reduced-cost lunches based on their families' incomes and will not be affected.
The price boosts are mandated to bring school districts into compliance with 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a law designed to ensure students receive healthy, nutritional school meals that include fresh fruit and vegetables.
Aportion of the act requires that the lunch prices schools charge their paying students must roughly equal the amount of government reimbursement the schools receive for students on free-and-reduced lunch.
To meet that requirement, many public schools in Kentucky and other states are having to raise their lunch fees this year to bring them closer to reimbursement levels.
For Fayette County students, the basic cost of a cafeteria lunch will rise by 15 cents this year. The price of lunch in Fayette elementary schools will go up from $2 last year to $2.15 this year. Lunch in Fayette middle and high schools, which cost $2.10 last year, will cost $2.25 this year, district officials said.
The price increases are based on a government formula, and will vary slightly from district to district. For example, lunch prices in the Madison County Schools will go up by a nickel across the board this year, district spokeswoman Erin Stewart said.
In the Bourbon County Schools, the price of lunch for elementary students will increase by a quarter, going from last year's $1.75 to $2 this year. Middle and high school students will continue to pay $2, the same as last year, according to Bourbon County Superintendent Lynn Fryman.
"I know this is a difficult time to ask people to pay more," she said. "But I hope they will look at the quality of the meals and think that $2 is pretty good.
"However, I realize that for someone who has two children $6 a day times five days a week adds up pretty quickly. I truly wish we could offer a free lunch and breakfast for every child, but that just isn't the reality right now."
Parents can apply for free and reduced lunch, the paperwork is available through the school office.
Even after this year, many districts may have to further increase their costs to come into full compliance, education officials say. For example, Michelle Cocker, child nutrition for the Fayette Schools, said the district probably will have to boost its lunch prices a little each year for the next few years.
Madison County also expects more increases in the next few years to fully comply with federal requirement, spokeswoman Erin Stewart said.
"I think it's for the next five years that we will have to make some adjustments," Stewart said. "We didn't want to dump it all on people at one time, so we're doing it incrementally. It's a nickel this year, it might be 10 cents next year."
Cocker said she was unaware of any major protests from Fayette parents about the rising lunch prices.
"It only concerns lunch; we didn't do anything with breakfast," Cocker said. "We haven't raised prices in four or five years anyway.
"I don't think many parents have found out about it yet. But I know we're already getting a lot of calls for applications to get into the free-and-reduced lunch program."
Almost half of Fayette County's roughly 40,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch because of family income.
Sheri Eaves, food service director for the Woodford County Schools, said she hopes the higher prices will encourage more families to apply for free lunch. Woodford County is raising its lunch prices a dime this year, to $2.15 for elementary students; $2.40 for middle school students and $2.65 for high school students.
"Hopefully, it won't cause a hardship for any of our parents," Eaves said. "And maybe those people who need to apply for free and reduced lunches will go ahead and apply now so that we can feed their children for free. The whole purpose of the program is to feed the children."
Jim Warren (859) 231-3255.