PATRIOT — The Gallia County Local Schools Board of Education agreed Monday to apply for a federal program that can provide all district students with free breakfast and lunch.
J. Michael Jacobs, director of support services, presented the board with information about the program and the application for the Child Nutrition Community Eligibility Project.
Board member Billy Swain and president Scott Williamson were not present for the meeting.
The project provides schools that participate in that National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program with an alternative method for counting and claiming student meals in high poverty local educational agencies. The program began in the 2011-12 school year in LEAs in a number of states, with Ohio school districts beginning to participate in the 2013-14 school year. The project is now offered to all LEAs in the country beginning this school year.
“The CEP option is when you have high-poverished schools, we no longer have to ask families to submit free and reduced lunch applications. We’re not permitted to. So that’s going to remove the stigma of ‘this kid’s free, this kid’s reduced, this kid can pay for it.’ We will no longer even know that information,” Jacobs said.
He said the board must apply by Aug. 31, which the board members agreed to do. After the application is approved, the program will be implemented this school year.
A school is eligible for the project if at least 40 percent of its students are certified for free meals through means other than household applications such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs.
“Right now, we have about 863 (eligible) kids,” he said. “So when you compare that number to our total population, that puts us at 44 percent, which allows us to be able to participate. Once we take that number and multiply that by 1.6, that’s the total number of students that we will get funded at the national free lunch rate, which is about $2.90 a meal, and the other children will get funded at the full rate, which is about 30 cents for each child,” Jacobs said.”We will be reimbursed at the federal level for free at about 63 percent as it stands right now, and we would just have to pick up the remaining 36 percent for our student population to eat free.”
Jacobs said the amount of the remaining 36 percent that the school system would have to pick up is approximately $9,594.38 a month. He also said this cost could go down if information about the number of students who are directly certified through household applications is released to the school.
“The more children we’re able to get certified on this, the better it’s going to be financially to be able to maintain this program,” he said. “This [direct certification list] is a highly controlled list. It’s very confidential for obvious reasons.”
Jacobs said once the school district has implemented the CEP program, the state can send out letters to certified listed students’ families, asking for signed permission of a parent to release the student’s direct certified status to the school system. Once this data is released to the school system, the schools can reapply with updated data that will enable the schools to receive more reimbursement.
“Next year, if we get more students on that direct certification list, we can reapply with that higher number and we will get the higher percentage of reimbursement. It can never go lower than the first year you apply, but it can always go higher, ” Jacobs said.
Jacobs also said the school district needs approximately 1,303 kids on the direct certification list, with respect to enrollment statistics as of April 1 of last year, in order for the school to get a 100 percent reimbursement.
“We’re at more than that now ($9,594.38 a month), so it’s a no-brainer with the chance of it (reimbursement) increasing,” board member Melvin Carter said.
The program is based on a four-year agreement, and the school system has the option to opt out of the program before the end of the four-year period.
“The only guarantee we have is that it would be good for four years,” Superintendent Jude Meyers said.
Jacobs also said that project officials said they fully expect an automatic renewal for schools that have applied for the program in the past.
Under CEP, students are required to take three of the five food items offered to them, which the representatives of the CEP project will come into the schools to monitor, Jacobs said.
“There’s no doubt that we all know — coming from this area — we have quite a few kids that are economically disadvantaged and we all understand the importance of kids, full bellies and how well they do on any proficiency test and anything academic or athletic,” Jacobs said. “If we’re not feeding our kids, they’re not going to learn near as well. It’s very, very difficult to pay attention to what’s going on in math or reading when your stomach is growling. So there’s no doubt we all understand the importance of nutrition and education.”