Starting next school year, about 59,000 students at 72 high-poverty Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools will automatically get free lunch through a new community eligibility provision of the federal school nutrition program.
The provision covers schools across the country where at least 40 percent of students are on public assistance, in foster care or fall into other categories that automatically qualify them for lunch subsidies, according to a presentation to the CMS board. The goal is to eliminate the need for high-need schools to collect applications and process payments -- and to make sure students get the nutrition they need to be ready to learn.
|Breakfast at Elizabeth Traditional Elementary|
The free lunch program should save some time and money for participating schools -- including, Superintendent Heath Morrison said, write-offs for lunches that children eat and parents fail to pay for. "The reality is many of these families simply can't afford to pay," he said, even if they don't meet the income cutoffs for free meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which already supports CMS students to the tune of about $50 million a year, will pick up the tab for all students at the designated schools.
Of course, there are complications. Eligibility for federal lunch aid is used to gauge school need and qualify students for a waiver of athletic and other fees. Families will still have to fill out income paperwork for the fee waivers, CMS officials said, and the district will have to find another method of tallying the number of "economically disadvantaged students."
Regular blog readers may be amused to hear that board member Rhonda Lennon noted the perennial comments from "Wiley Coyote" raising questions about the free lunch program. "Mr. Coyote will want to know: What alternative methods for determining student eligibility were used?" The answers were fairly complex; those who are really into this can find the child nutrition discussion on video at this link, starting at the 1:47 mark. Lennon's questions about Wiley Coyote (and comments about the tastiness and fat content of Takis hot snacks) starts at 2:03.
Vice Chair Tim Morgan asked about the prospects for the federal government to just pay for lunch for all students.
Hobbs said it won't happen soon, but it should: "If you can give a child free transportation and you can give them free books, why can't you give them free meals?"
On the Raleigh roundup, I'm not finding any new education-related bills on the General Assembly listing for Wednesday. But Pamela Grundy of MecklenburgACTS says the Senate education committee is taking up changes to the Read to Achieve act, which mandates consequences for third-graders who fail to prove they can read on grade level. Read her group's critique here.