Parents and students in the Cleveland City Schools system will not have to worry about a recent price increase to student lunches for at least one year, while the city schools participate in the Community Eligibility Provision program.
The new initiative offered through the United States Department of Agriculture due to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act will provide breakfast and lunch to all city students at no cost during the 2014-15 school year.
Director of City Schools Dr. Martin Ringstaff assured the school board at a recent meeting much careful consideration has gone into the decision. Supervisor of School Nutrition Susan Mobley said her staff has been “crunching numbers seriously” since January. While the decision ultimately rested on Ringstaff’s plate, the Cleveland Board of Education voted 7-0 in support of the program.
Funds used to finance the program are not provided through local taxes. Mobley assured all money to offer breakfast and lunch at no cost to students is provided at the federal level.
Only school systems with a free and reduced rate of 40 percent or more were eligible for CEP. Cleveland City Schools has a system number of over 60 percent of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches. Directly certified students, or students who receive benefits from the state, and students who come from a low-income household tend to make up the population who receive free and reduced-rate lunches.
A formula provided by USDA determines the number of identified students, or directly certified students, for whom the school system will receive reimbursement at a free-plate rate. This rate is determined by the USDA and is unknown to the school system until July. The system will also receive a paid reimbursement for lunches of students who are not listed as “identified.” The paid reimbursement tends to be significantly less than the free-plate rate reimbursement.
According to Mobley, nonfederal funds must be used to make up the difference on what the CEP does not cover. The prime source of nonfederal funds at each school is sales made al la carte. These food items include everything from second servings to snack items.
Mobley assured the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids regulations dictate even al la carte items are a healthy option.
All students who choose a reimbursable meal in the lunch line will be able to eat at no cost. A reimbursable meal counts as a plate with at least three of five components: meat/meat alternate, fruit, vegetable, grains and milk. One of the three components must be either a fruit or a vegetable. If a student does not choose the full amount required, it does not count as a full component. Often the student will be invited to get more of one component. Any alternate to a reimburseable meal will constitute an al a carte item.
Not all al a carte items are covered under the CEP. These items will be paid either out-of-pocket or through money placed in a student’s account.
Mobley listed several benefits the CEP program could have outside of providing students with breakfast and lunch at no cost for the 2014-15 school year.
- School employees will not have to spend time with the paperwork associated with the free and reduced-rate program. This includes tracking down parents or guardians, determining whether or not a family qualifies and the verification process of a percentage of applicants.
- Lines will move more quickly in the cafeterias.
- Cashiers will not have to refuse a child lunch or breakfast as they had to under the system’s no-charge policy.
- Increased participation by students at both breakfast and lunch.