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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
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Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
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Sontag, Rocky Mount students to receive free meals
New program provides breakfast and lunch to all students
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Heather Snead

Friday, July 25, 2014

By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer

All students attending Sontag and Rocky Mount elementary schools will receive free breakfast and lunch this year, thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program.

Sontag and Rocky Mount are the two schools in the district with the highest number of students eligible to receive free lunch, according to Heather Snead, director of food services for Franklin County schools.

"This is our first year applying," said Snead. "We are starting out with two schools for now."

Schools in Virginia whose percentage of students eligible for free lunch is 40 percent or higher are eligible to apply for the CEP program.

Fifty-three percent of Sontag students are eligible for free lunch, while Rocky Mount's percentage is 50, according to last year's data.

"We have more schools in our division that qualify, but we are starting out with two schools for now," Snead said.

A school's percentage is calculated by the number of approved free lunch applications turned in each year, Snead said. The school division has a large number of students eligible for the free lunch program, but has encountered problems getting parents to fill out the form.

"There is a stigma to filling out the free lunch form," she said. "We have a lot of parents who don't want to fill out the form, even though they need to. Some of them have a lot of trouble filling out the form and turning in all the necessary information in a timely fashion."

"The CEP program eliminates that for those eligible schools," she added. "It decreases administrative costs on our end since there are less forms to process and lunch participation goes up. It's a win-win."

Eleven other states have participated in the program and it has worked well for them, Snead said.

"Lunch participation went up by 5 to 10 percent within those states that participated," she said.

The CEP program is an amendment to the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. 1759a(a)(1)), which provides an alternative to household applications for free and reduced price meals in high poverty local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools. 

The CEP for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) gives eligible LEAs and schools with high percentages of low-income children the option to offer free school meals to all children in those schools without collecting applications.

School divisions may elect the CEP program for all schools in the division, a group of schools or an individual school.

Once the school is approved for the program, it is approved for a four-year period.

"We will have to reapply every four years," said Snead.

Individual student eligibility data for free or reduced price meals will not be available under the CEP, so this may have an impact on other state programs that use this information for funding formulas, such as Title I funds, Special Education, E-Rate program, or any other state funding formulas. 

A different method of collecting socioeconomic data for those schools may have to be considered for those programs.

"I see no negatives with this program," said Snead. "It is beneficial for the schools and children and for our families. Less kids will go home hungry."

Studies show that well-nourished students are better prepared to learn, according to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).

"To that end, schools help provide a healthy environment through nutritious meals, healthy snacks and opportunities for physical education and nutrition education," according to the VDOE. "Through school nutrition programs, 670,000 lunches, 250,000 breakfasts and 7,240 afterschool snacks are served on a typical day in Virginia public schools. VDOE provides leadership and assistance to school divisions in developing effective and comprehensive nutrition services that result in children making educated, healthful choices."

 
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