The Rockford School Board tonight approved a federally funded alternative meal program that will allow all students to receive breakfast and lunch at no cost to students. The district would still receive state reimbursement for breakfast and lunch, and increased federal reimbursement will replace out-of-pocket costs from students and their families for meals served at school.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture program, called the Community Eligibility Provision, was piloted in three states in 2011. Now 2,218 school districts utilize the program across the country; 134 of those districts are in Illinois.
The switch means parents will not need to complete a meal form at registration for the 2015-16 school year. They also won’t need to send money with their children to cover the cost of school meals. It will eliminate any stigma that might be tied to completing a lunch program application. Also, students who have negative account balances won’t need alternative meals. Moving to this federally funded program will have no effect on the district’s operating budget.
For RPS 205, the timing is right as the district’s number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch grows, said Chief Operations Officer Todd Schmidt. Today, 83 percent of the nearly 29,000 students in RPS 205 qualify for free or reduced meal prices. For the federal program to be viable, a district must have more than 60 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch rates.
About 62 percent of all RPS 205 students participate in school lunch service. With the switch to this program, administrators expect that number to grow. The switch in other school districts has meant a boost to breakfast and lunch participation. In states with the pilot program, breakfast participation increased 25 percent and lunch participation increased 13 percent over two years. RPS 205 administrators hope more students take advantage of meals served at school, so students are ready to learn and aren’t trying to concentrate on empty stomachs.
The program is only applicable for student meals; it does not affect the price for staff meals. It also does not apply to a la carte items or items from the snack bar.
What’s next: District officials will submit an application to the state verifying the district’s eligibility and enroll RPS 205 in the four-year program. The change is effective for the 2015-16 school year. District officials can also decide to drop out of the program at any time without penalty.
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