Troup County Board of Education to consider free school meals

Every student at three Troup County schools next year could receive free breakfast and lunch each day at school under a new federal program.

The Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, provides an alternative approach for offering school meals to local educational agencies and schools in low income areas, instead of collecting individual applications for free and reduced price meals, according to the USDA website. The CEP uses information from other programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and the Temporary Assistance Program for Needy Families, or TANF, instead of traditional paper applications, according to USDA.

The Troup County Board of Education on Thursday is set to consider implementing the program for Berta Weathersbee, Ethel W. Kight and Whitesville Road elementary schools starting in the upcoming school year with a commitment of four total years. If approved, students at each of the three schools would receive a free breakfast and lunch each school day during the next four years.

Those three schools are eligible under the CEP formula because of the percentage of students at the schools who currently receive free and reduced lunch, said John Radcliffe, school system assistant superintendent of maintenance and operations, during Monday’s Board of Education caucus meeting. According to documentation provided by Radcliffe, in 2014 Whitesville Road served 89,115 free lunches and 3,515 reduced out of a total 97,090 served; Berta Weathersbee served 56,100 free lunches and 2,401 reduced lunches out of 60,659 total; and Ethel W. Kight served 70,834 free lunches and 5,569 reduced out of a total 87,471.

The federal government actually reimburses local school systems more for free and reduced lunches, where paid lunches actually lose money, said Radcliffe and Byron Jones, school system chief financial officer. With the CEP, the school system would lose an estimated $62,227.60 in revenue up front, but anticipated to make at least $14,000 more than the loss at the end of the year from federal reimbursements. This would be from the anticipated increase in participation in school lunch and breakfast, on which the USDA bases its funding allocations – even on unpaid meals.

The school system also would not need to process applications for students qualifying for free or reduced meals, since all students would receive the free meals, which would save money, Radcliffe noted. The provision also allows the school system to opt out if it would potentially lose money, he said.

If the CEP implementation is successful, the school system will consider expanding it to other qualifying schools, Radcliffe said. Ensuring that all students have access to meals ties into the school system’s goal of increasing scores and performance, he added.

“We have the funds available” to do this, Radcliffe told Board of Education members. “This is a program that, in our effort to increase scores, grades – all of these things come into play. There is a lot of literature, resources that show that kids coming to school with breakfast and lunch are doing better in the classroom. … Some of these kids get breakfast and lunch with us, and may not eat again until they come back to get breakfast with us the next morning.”

The Board of Education is set to vote during Thursday’s meeting on committing to the CEP at Berta Weathersbee, Ethel W. Kight and Whitesville Road elementary schools. The Board of Education meets at 5:30 p.m. in the Administrative Services Center, 100 N. Davis Road, building C.

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