Clark County Public Schools will not be participating in the Community Eligibility Option, a federal free meal option through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.
Last month, Clark County Public Schools was among 106 Kentucky school districts that became eligible to participate in the option that would have made it easier for low-income students to receive meals, after Kentucky was chosen as one of the first three states to take part in the program.
The Community Eligibility Option would have eliminated the use of applications and provided free breakfast and lunch to all students in schools within the districts that had more than 40 percent of their students certified for free or reduced lunches.
Under the program, school districts would get reimbursed by the USDA for the students who were identified as eligible for free meals through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but the districts would be responsible for paying the cost of the meals for the remainder of the students in those schools.
While the program had some major advantages, such as reducing paperwork by eliminating household applications, the downside is that it would have been costly to the participating districts.
That’s why Clark County joined all but seven of the other 106 eligible districts, and chose not to participate in the Community Eligibility Option.
If it had participated in the program, it would have cost Clark Schools more than $24,000 per month for a total of $249,150 for the year.
Superintendent Elaine Farris said that while she would have loved to have provided the meals, there was no way the district could absorb that much at this time.
“In these depressed economic times, I wish we could feed every student free. However, the district is experiencing the same economic hardship that everyone is,” Farris said. “The district had to absorb a SEEK reduction of $339,416.00 in 2010-2011, and it is being discussed in Frankfort that education may experience a 3 percent budget reduction this year. And our federal program funding was reduced this year also. We just cannot afford to participate in this program at this time.”
Farris said that without the income applications, the district’s state and federal funding could be affected as well.
“Without the actual income applications being completed by the food service program in the participating schools, the district would have difficulty gathering actual free and reduced-price information, therefore, the district’s state and federal funding could be negatively impacted.”
The Community Eligibility Option was among the early reforms enacted as a result of the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed by President Barack Obama in 2010. The act required that the option be phased in over a three-year period.
Districts that chose not to participate can still do so in subsequent years if the program becomes economically feasible.
Contact Bob Flynn at email@example.com.