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MCCSC Expands Free School Lunch Program

An empty school cafeteria.

(Steve Burns, WTIU/WFIU News)

The Monroe County Community School Corporation is implementing a free lunch program for some additional schools for the upcoming academic year.

All students at Arlington Elementary, Fairview Elementary, Highland Park Elementary, Templeton Elementary, and Bloomington Graduation School will receive free breakfast and lunch during the week.

The program is called the Community Eligibility Provision and is only available to schools in low-income areas that participate in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.

It's part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service. The program doesn't collect household applications from enrolled students. Schools are reimbursed based on the percentage of students eligible for free meals through other programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

Although Monroe County Community School Corporation has always been part of the National School Lunch Program, the district just began applying for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) four years ago.

Hattie Johnson, Director of Nutrition Services, says that a school must have forty percent of the students enrolled at a building qualify for free meal assistance by the state, something called Process Direct Certification, in order to apply for the CEP.

Johnson says that through the CEP, schools will get reimbursed a certain percentage of meal cost based on the number of students that directly certify.  If a school’s percentages are not high enough to be reimbursed one hundred percent, the food service budget provides the extra funding. Districts are also allowed to group schools together to raise average percentages.

"In our first round we grouped Templeton with Fairview because Templeton standing alone would have had a lower level of reimbursement and that would have meant the district would have to come up with non-federal dollars to close the gap," says Johnson.

The Community Eligibility Provision applies to a school for up to four years, however the numbers are examined every year to confirm that the provision is working for a school financially. If the percentage of students on direct certification increases, a school can reapply to get additional reimbursement money.

"The families are struggling financially," says Johnson. "That’s when the free becomes important, because if they’re already struggling to not have to look further in the family budget to provide for breakfast and lunch during the school year, that really relieves the burden some."

Johnson says the MCCSC lunch debt issue is relatively unaffected by the provision because the students at the 5 CEP schools are not charged for their meals.

This story has been updated.

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