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June 13, 2014

Free breakfast, lunch for all New Castle students

NEW CASTLE — No more lunch money. No more milk money.

At least not in the New Castle school district.

All district students will get free breakfast and lunch every day in the cafeteria next school year, compliments of a new U.S. Department of Agriculture program.

The federal initiative — the Community Eligibility Provision — will provide reimbursement to the district, which must feed students healthy foods — whole-grain bread, protein, fruits and vegetables and drinks.

According to the Food Research and Action Center webpage, the program gives schools with high percentages of low-income children an opportunity to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

Eligible schools are required to pay the difference between the level of financial resources allowed by law and the total cost of operating their programs.

Included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the program eliminates paper applications. Instead, schools are reimbursed through a formula based on the number of “identified students ”certified without application for free school meals, the webpage notes.

John J. Sarandrea, district superintendent, explained the community eligibility option is for districts that have had at least 60 percent of their student population qualify for free or reduced lunch.

In New Castle, at least 70 percent qualify, he said.

Rick Sankey, district food service director, added that for the district to be eligible, 40 percent of the 70 percent must be welfare recipients. Then the district can receive reimbursement for each building. He added the district should be able to claim all its schools for the program next year.

The difference in the reimbursement to New Castle will be only about 10 percent higher than it has received in the past, Sankey estimated.

He noted New Castle already follows the national school lunch and breakfast program regulations for serving healthy foods.

“We have to offer two whole grain products, fruit or juice, or one protein in place of one of the grains, and milk,” he said, but not all students have opted for the lunches.

School districts have been losing money on cafeteria operation because students quit buying lunches when schools switched to serving healthier foods, Sarandrea said.

“The goal of ‘free to everyone’ is to increase participation,” Sarandrea explained. “Our goal is to get everyone to eat breakfast, and the feds are serious about it.”

The district plans to offer “grab and go” hot breakfast sandwiches and a beverage alternative for students in grades seven through 12 who don’t want to go to school early for breakfast, Sarandrea said. The sandwiches will be made in the cafeteria.

Sankey said all other students would sit down and eat breakfast.

An advantage for the district is that it won’t have to process applications of families or conduct verification of eligibility. Nor will it have to collect meal payments from students or follow up on unpaid meal charges.

Another advantage is there won’t be a stigma attached to underprivileged students who were the only ones eligible previously, Sarandrea said.

According to information provided by the U.S. departments of agriculture and education, the Community Eligibility Provision has been phased in over the past three years and has been operating in 11 states and 4,000 schools. The program is becoming available nationwide beginning July 1.

“We’re really excited about it,” Sarandrea said. “We’re looking forward to providing this en masse.”


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