Federal program will allow Kentucky schools to provide more students with free meals

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJune 22, 2014 

Healthier School Lunches

Free meals will be available in 2014-15 to more students, no matter their families’ incomes, through the Community Eligibility Provision, a federal program that started in 2010 as a pilot in Kentucky and other states. In Fayette County, eight to 12 of the district’s 66 schools might participate , but the schools haven't been chosen, officials said.

HANS PENNINK — AP

This fall, all students could receive free meals at some schools in an estimated 100 Kentucky districts, including Fayette, as part of a federal program that has expanded.

The Community Eligibility Provision, a federal program that started in 2010 as a pilot in Kentucky and other states, will allow schools to provide more students with free meals, no matter their families' incomes.

Under the new rules, schools may serve free breakfast and lunch to all students at schools in which at least 40 percent of students are certified to receive free meals because those children already receive federal money from a government program such as food stamps or Medicaid, the health care program for the poor and disabled, said Julia Bauscher, director of school and community nutrition services for Jefferson County Public Schools.

The Jefferson County school board voted this month to offer free meals in the fall to all students at 95 of the district's 172 schools.

Statewide, the Kentucky Department of Education anticipates that 100 of the state's 173 school districts will participate in the program in 2014-15, said spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez. A list of schools that will participate is not available because applications still are being approved, she said.

In Fayette County, eight to 12 of the district's 66 schools might participate, although those schools won't be chosen until later in the summer, said Michelle Coker, Fayette County's director of child nutrition. The school board would be asked to approve the schools, she said.

Lisa Deffendall, spokeswoman for Fayette County Public Schools, said district officials had not determined how much money parents or the district could save through the program. But parents who pay for lunches will be paying more next fall.

The Fayette County school board recently set prices for breakfast and lunch for 2014-15. The full price for breakfast at elementary, middle and high schools did not change. It will remain $1.35.

For lunch, elementary schools will charge $2.25, an increase of 10 cents from 2013-14. The price at middle and high schools will increase by 25 cents, to $2.50.

Deffendall said the price increases were mandated by the state and federal government.

As part of the pilot project in 2013-14, she said, Fayette County provided free lunch to all students at Lexington's Day Treatment Center. It is a collaborative program among the Urban County Government, Fayette County Public Schools and the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

Stephanie Hong, the city's director of youth services, said that with all students receiving free lunch at Lexington Day Treatment Center, there has been a "cultural change" in that no students feel singled out by their peers because of their economic situation. Lexington Day Treatment has about 50 students.

In addition, there was less paperwork for staff members who previously had to process documents for students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, she said.

Jefferson County parents who had been paying for school lunches could save as much as $700 a year when the program expands, said Bauscher. The Jefferson district also expects to get about $1.3 million annually in new revenue from the federal program. But Bauscher said the district ultimately would make less than that because of the loss of money from families who previously paid for meals.

One of the greatest benefits, Bauscher said, was that "it makes all students more comfortable about participating in the program."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears

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