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55,000 JCPS Students May Get Free Meals Under New Plan; Others Could See 10-Cent Hike

The Jefferson County Board of Education on Tuesday will consider changing school  meal prices for students across the district.Under one proposal, 55,000 students would begin getting free school breakfasts and lunches,  said Julia Bauscher, director of school and community nutrition services for JCPS. Meanwhile, the school system intends to raise by 10 cents the price of lunches for students not eligible for free or reduced meals.  Jefferson County Public Schools is seeking inclusion into the National School Lunch Program’s Community Eligibility Provision. The program allows some schools—those with a large percentage of students who qualify for free meals—to provide free breakfast and lunches for the entire student body, regardless of individual students' family incomes.Under current policy, a student is eligible for free lunch only if their family meets federal guidelines—$23,850 or less per year for a family of four.For an entire school to qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision, at least 62.5 percent of the student population must be “directly certified” for free benefits, Bauscher said. "Directly certified" families qualify for free or reduced lunch automatically because they qualify for benefits from such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Medicaid.Under the provision, 95 JCPS schools would provide free breakfast and lunch to all their students, Bauscher said. Here's a list:Bauscher said the program would allow more students to eat healthful school meals. This can also erase the stigma that comes along with getting a free meal.“There are a lot of students that are eligible for free meals, especially in high school, that may not participate because they don’t want anybody to think that they don’t have money,” she said.A family who pays for a student's meal throughout the school year would save about $700, Bauscher said.Meanwhile, she said the need to boost the price of lunch for other students is beyond the district’s control.Jefferson County Public Schools administrators will recommend that the board  increase the price of school lunches by 10 cents. Administrators want to shrink the gap between the price of paid meals and what the federal reimburses for free breakfasts and lunches.The price increase would apply only to students who pay full price for lunch—not for students on free or reduced meal plans, Bauscher said.The USDA provides $3.01 for every free student meal.  Increasing the cost of a paid lunch by 10 cents will close the reimbursement gap to the required $2.65, as the USDA provides only $.36 for paid lunches.Bauscher said the federal reimbursement for paid meals has decreased 8 percent "steadily" over the last three years.The current price of school lunch is $2.40 for elementary students and $2.50 for middle and high school students.JCPS provides early 31,000 paid meals each school day, Bauscher said.  Over the course of an entire school year, a 10 cents boost would generate more than $48,000, she said.The extra money would help the district cover the increasing costs of foods and the added cost of adhering the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kid Act of 2010, which requires school districts to provide whole grain foods, fresh fruits and vegetables to students.The school board last voted to increase school lunch prices in 2012.Board member David Jones Jr. said he supports the USDA requirement of schools to provide healthy eating options to students.“Schools have to teach reading writing and arithmetic, but they are also society’s best tool for teaching a healthy lifestyle and we need to get in front of this epidemic of disease,” he said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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