81,000 students of all incomes now eligible to receive free meals in JCPS
The move means that a total of 81,300 JCPS students at 127 schools are now eligible to receive the free meals thanks to a federal program that enables high-poverty districts across the country to offer the meals to all students at schools with enough kids that are certified as qualifying for free lunch.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for us to provide free meals to more of our students,” said Julia Bauscher, director of School and Community Nutrition Services with Jefferson County Public Schools. “It will not only save our families money, it will also remove the stigma that is associated with receiving the free meals."
JCPS estimates the move will save families at the 32 additional schools who previously qualified for reduced-price meals $122 per child each year. Families that did not qualify for free meals would save about $800 per child each year, Bauscher said.
“This year, both of our breakfast and lunch participation rates at the original 96 schools have increased by 8 percent over last year,” she said. “This indicates that more of our students are accessing these healthy meals each day.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the aim of the community eligibility program is to provide an alternative to household eligibility applications for free and reduced-price meals in high-poverty districts. The program has been piloted in 11 states and 4,000 schools over the past three years and was expanded this year to include all states.
The provision allows districts to use information from other programs such as the Temporary Assistance Program for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to identify families in need, Bauscher said.
Schools that have at least 62.5 percent of their students certified through those programs qualify to serve all students free breakfast and lunch, Bauscher said.
Bauscher said JCPS is able to combine a lower-poverty and higher-poverty school and offer the free meals if their combined numbers meet the program qualifications, she said.
And because the USDA reimburses the school district for meals served, serving the additional meals will not mean additional costs for the school district. In fact, it will mean more than $2 million annually in new revenue that nutrition services may use for other services and programs, Bauscher said.
That will help offset rising food costs, which prompted the school board on Monday night to raise lunch prices 10 cents for elementary students and 15-cents for middle/high school students this fall.
A full-price lunch at schools not eligible for the free meal will now cost elementary students $2.60 and middle and high school students $2.75, said Michael Raisor, chief operations officer for JCPS.
"We are federally mandated to raise meal prices until it reaches the amount that we are reimbursed by the federal government," Raisor said. “Our goal is to keep expanding the community eligibility program each year so that more and more of our students can benefit from it.”
JCPS spends roughly $48 million on its meal program, serving about 10.5 million lunches and 6 million breakfasts.
The 32 new JCPS schools where all students are now eligible to receive the free meals include: Bates, Bloom, Bowen, Chancey, Chenoweth, Eisenhower, Farmer, Fern Creek, Field, Hawthorne, Jeffersontown, Kennedy, Laukhauf, Medora, Middletown, Smyrna, St. Matthews, Wheeler and Wilder elementary schools; Carrithers, Farnsley, Highland, Johnson, Kammerer, Meyzeek, Noe and Ramsey middle schools and Butler, Fern Creek, Jeffersontown and Pleasure Ridge Park high schools.
That leaves 19 schools in JCPS that are still ineligible to serve free meals to all students. They include Audubon, Brandeis, Dunn, Greathouse/Shryock, Hite, Lowe, Norton, Schaffner, Stopher and Tully elementary schools; Barret, Crosby and Jefferson County Traditional middle schools; Atherton, Ballard, Eastern, Louisville Male and duPont Manual high schools and the Brown School.
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The 96 JCPS schools that began offering free meals to all students this year include:
Blue Lick Elementary
Breckinridge Metropolitan High
Buechel Metropolitan High
Camp Taylor Elementary
Cane Run Elementary
Center at Riverport
Churchill Park Rehab
Coral Ridge Elementary
Crums Lane Elementary
Dawson Orman Ed Ctr
Fairdale High MCA
Foster Traditional Academy
Frederick Olmstead North
Frederick Olmstead South
George Unseld Education Center
Gilmore Lane Elementary
Indian Trail Elementary
Jaeger Education Center
Johnsontown Road Elementary
Kennedy Metro Middle
Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts
Mcferran Preparatory Academy
Mill Creek Elementary
Minors Lane Elementary
Roosevelt Perry Elementary
Shelby Traditional Academy
South Park Tapp
The Academy @ Shawnee
Thomas Jefferson Middle
Valley Traditional High
Watson Lane Elementary
Zachary Taylor Elementary
Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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