Monday, August 17, 2015

Community Eligibility or universal free lunch: (being updated asquestions come in!)

Coming up on tomorrow's subcommittee agenda (5:30 pm, 4th floor of the admin building) is the Finance and Operations' members consideration of voting the Worcester Public Schools into Community Eligibility, which would give us universal free breakfast and lunch. It will then go before the full committee on Thursday night.
You can find the notes from administration specifically on the school nutrition change here. The rest of our backup items have to do with what the state's changes on measuring low income students means for measuring the amount of poverty in the students of the Worcester Public Schools (this was one of the reasons we haven't applied earlier and remains a major concern at the statewide level; you can find my post on the statewide information here).
Setting that aside for a moment (as that's moved to a level where all we can do is advocate), a quick rundown on how the Community Eligibility Provision (yes, CEP) works: Kids who are enrolled in state benefit services--specifically SNAP, TAFDC, MassHealth, and homeless kids and kids in foster care--are considered "direct certified;" that means that the state counts them directly, without further district action. If 40% or more of students in a district (or a charter school) are direct certified, a district qualifies for CEP. If a district votes to go to CEP, they are reimbursed for meals at 160% of their direct certification rate, to a maximum of 100%.
You can see my other posts on how this might miss kids in the counting.
The link to our subcommittee backup above gives the math, but suffice to say that it works out that we can then feed ALL kids for free through federal funding (and remember: WPS already was fully self-funding the school nutrition department; they don't get any money from our regular budget).
Because the 40% (plus) of qualifying children are already being processed through other programs, WPS will not have to process any forms (and parents won't have to fill them out!). That not only saves time; it saves money. Any district that has 100% reimbursement through CEP is certified for the next four years (so no forms for at least that time).
A few quick FAQ (which I will add to as I get more):
  • Which kids would get free lunch? ALL kids in the Worcester Public Schools. That's kindergarten through grade 12, at all of our schools.
  • Anything else? Breakfast, too! (And snacks at the schools that do snacks for their in-building after school programs).
  • What will I have to do? Just send your kids to school, and when they count who wants lunch, have them raise their hands! Secondary students should just join the lunch line.
  • Are the schools prepared for the possible increase in lunches served? Yes, I'm told that they are. And the lunch ladies I've spoken with are VERY excited about it!
  • Can the cafeteria handle food allergies? Yes. We already are peanut free; we have options that are dairy free. If your child has a gluten allergy, please send in a doctor's note to that effect; there will be a lunch created just for your child (that may take a bit for processing).
  • What if we are vegetarians? The secondary schools all have a vegetarian option. We're expanding that in elementary school, 'though sunbutter and jelly sandwiches are also available. 
  • My kid usually buys milk at school; now what? If you send your kid in with a sandwich, have them pick up an apple and carrot sticks as well as a milk (all free), and you have a free lunch (or most of lunch, depending on your kid!). Kids will need to take three items for it to count. Should they take anything LESS than three, they will still need to pay for what they take. Milk will still cost fifty cents, if that is all they take. 
  • I had money on account; can I get it back? Yes, your child will come home if there is money in your account; fill it out and return for a refund. Alternatively, you can leave the money there if (as above) your child will buy milk or individual items. 
  • What's the catch? Part of the idea is that if EVERYone gets lunch for free, no one gets singled out for having or not having money, for being a free lunch kid, or what have you. So the catch is that more kids, we hope, have a full and healthy lunch (and breakfast!).
  • Where did this come from? This one comes to us courtesy of the oft-maligned Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010. Yes, that would be a federal law actually doing what it says in the name of the act!
Keep the questions coming! We meet at 5:30 on Tuesday, and at 4 pm on Thursday (that's at City Hall). Both meetings are public (so come by if you're interested) and both are televised as well as live streamed. 

With thanks, as always, to my tireless sources in Nutrition and Finance. 

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