No such thing as a free lunch?
There is in Wyoming County.
All county school students, regardless of income, will get free breakfast and lunch in the upcoming school year.
Marquita Walker, director of Food Services, told the Board of Education at its meeting Friday morning that the USDA has approved the Community Eligibility Option (CEO) for West Virginia schools in 2012-13.
Under the formula for Wyoming County, she reported, 70 percent of free meals would be reimbursed by the federal government at the free rates and 30 percent of meals would be reimbursed at the paid rate.
If the county sees a 10 percent increase in student participation in breakfast and 11 percent in lunch, the program would break even.
Walker is optimistic that it can do even better.
She pointed to the universal free meal program introduced in McDowell County in 2011-12. The number of students eating breakfast jumped by 25 percent and the number eating lunch went up eight percent.
If Wyoming County records similar numbers, Walker said, the program would move into the black.
“I think participation will go up,” she commented. “I think this is a good program.”
The program also reduces paper work by eliminating the need to collect and process applications for free and reduced meals.
Board members said it was important to get the word out about the program to parents and students this summer.
“We need to let parents know that you don’t have to fill out an application this year,” Walker remarked.
Board Member Perry Cook suggested using the automated calling system, currently in use to notify families of snow days, to inform parents and students about free meals.
Board President Tommy Knotts asked if specific schools tended to have low meal participation rates.
Walker said the high schools are usually lower and that students there can eat out of the snack machines.
She expressed hope that the free meals will boost the number of students eating meals. “We have beautiful salad bars at the high schools with fresh vegetable and fresh fruit and they can go back and get food from the salad bar as many times as they want,” she noted.
If the program is profitable, Walker stated, funds would be used to buy new kitchen equipment where needed.
Teachers will continue to pay for meals.
According to the USDA Web site, the CEO was introduced in 2011-12, with Michigan, Illinois and Kentucky selected to participate.
States applied to take part in 20-12-13, and West Virginia, Ohio, Washington, D.C., and New York were picked for participation.
The option will be offered to all states beginning in 2014-15.