Starting next school year, San Marcos CISD will be offering students free meals without requiring parents to fill out an application to see if they qualify.
On Monday, trustees voted to approve the Community Eligibility Provision program, a federally-funded free breakfast and lunch program for school districts in low-income areas.
One benefit of the CEP, according to Director of Child Nutrition Services Mike Boone, is that it does not require a household application to determine whether a student can receive a free or reduced lunch. Instead, it automatically gathers data on families who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits, or Medicaid, as well as students who are identified as homeless, runaway, or migrant or are in the foster care system.
Eligible school districts must have at least 40 percent of students are “directly certified”; At SMCISD, 51.78 percent of the students are “directly certified”. Every four years, the district is required to reexamine what percentage of students qualify.
Another advantage to the program, according to Boone, is that it eliminates the need for alternate, or courtesy, meals, given to students after two meals are charged if they have a negative balance. So far in the 2017-18 school year, 26,426 courtesy meals have been served across the district, which costs $48,416.55.
In determining whether SMCISD was eligible for CEP, the district identified 4,192 students, or 51.78 percent of students, who qualified. Based on the a calculation of 1.6 percent multiplied by the percentage of students certified, 82.8 percent of lunch meals will be reimbursed at the federal free rate of $3.25 per meals, and 17.2 percent of lunch meals will be reimbursed at the federal paid rate of $.33 per meal. Breakfast meals will also be covered by federal dollars, which means all students will get two free meals a day.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, in 2017 20 million students received free lunches through the National School Lunch Program.
Established by the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act, the CEP was piloted in Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan in 2011. The CEP became available nationwide in the 2014−15 school year.
Boone said the CEP program would be enacted at SMCISD at the start of the 2018-19 school year. The state still has to review SMCISD’s documentation to ensure it meets all the criteria to participate, and the application is due June 1, according to Boone.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that all students’ breakfast and lunch meals will be covered by the federal Community Eligibility Provision program.