By RAYMOND L. DAYE
Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? That old saying is no longer true for students in Avoyelles Parish School District’s 10 cafeterias.
Last year the School Board enrolled in the Community Eligibility Provision -- an alternative school breakfast and lunch program that allows school districts with a large percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced price meals to offer free lunch and breakfast to all students.
This past school year, the CEP was implemented for the six schools with the highest percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced price meals -- Riverside, Plaucheville, Cottonport, Marksville and Bunkie elementaries and Bunkie High. Under that program, every student at those six schools received free breakfasts and lunches during the school year.
Food Services Supervisor Jenny Welch told the School Board Executive Committee this past Tuesday that the district would qualify to serve 93.1 percent of the district’s students if it extended the program to include Lafargue Elementary and Avoyelles, Marksville and LaSAS high schools.
She requested -- and the committee agreed -- to make all school breakfasts and lunches free for all children. Under this program, there is no need to submit an application and there will be no classification of “full price,” “reduced price” and “free.”
free to all students
“This would allow all of our schools in the parish to provide free breakfast and lunch to all of our students,” she said.
Welch said that a review of the budget indicates the Food Service budget will be able to cover the other 7 percent of students that would not qualify for federal reimbursement for the meals.
“I wouldn’t say we ‘made money’ on the program, but it does appear that the reimbursement we received under the CEP would be enough to at least allow us to break-even if we extend it to all 10 schools,” she said.
Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said the program is an outstanding opportunity to help students and their families.
Welch said that based on this past year’s experience with the program, she expects participation in the school meal programs -- especially breakfast -- to increase.
There was an overall increase of 9 percent in school breakfasts at the schools in CEP. Bunkie High, the only high school with the program, showed a 4 percent increase in the school lunches.
“It is the goal of the Child Nutrition Programs to feed all of our students healthy meals twice daily at no cost to the household and also to encourage academic success,” Welch said. “CEP will allow the Avoyelles Parish School Board this opportunity.”
Save families money
Welch said the program will save a family $528 per year per student if they were paying full price for the school meals -- $176 for breakfasts and $352 for lunches. A family that qualified for reduced-price meals will save $123 per year per student -- $52.80 for breakfasts and $70.40 for lunches.
“This is really incredible,” Welch said after the committee’s endorsement. “It means every kid can eat free. It takes the burden off the family to fill out applications. There will be no phone calls home to tell a parent that their child owes for lunches. It really is pretty amazing.”
The School Board has to commit to participating in the CEP program for four years. That commitment carries an obligation to cover with local funds all costs of providing free meals to students that would not qualify for the federal reimbursement program.
Welch said more districts are deciding to participate in CEP as they see the benefits to their students and few drawbacks to the program.
She said one concern was how participation would affect funding from federal programs that was directly linked to the number of students on free and reduced meals. The concern was that with all students receiving free meals, there could be a delay or loss of funds.
Welch said the funding formulas have been revised due to CEP and there is no threat of losing federal funds as a result of participating in the program.