Frankfort Independent Schools will take part in a federal program next year to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students at Second Street School.
The “community eligibility option” is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.
The Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to join the program next school year.
All students will receive free meals, regardless of their income, reimbursed by the federal government. To qualify, at least 40 percent of students must be on public assistance – at SSS, the rate is more than 53 percent.
Food Services Director April Peach said she’s crunched the numbers, and foregoing paid lunches could mean the school district loses about $5,000 annually.
But that sum could be offset by increased sales of a la carte food and expanded menu options for teachers and staff, she said. If more students choose school lunch, the deficit could also shrink.
“It’s the same thing I see every day – those families that are borderline,” she told school board members Thursday.
“We’re talking $100 a month throwing them out of receiving free meals, which is a huge detriment.
“The idea is to take into consideration the community as a whole, and the poverty level of the community, to reach out to those borderline income families and get all of your students free meals, breakfast and lunch.”
Kentucky is among the first states to participate in a universal free meal option that allows schools in high-poverty areas to eliminate the use of applications for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.
“A lot of lunch boxes have a 99-cent Banquet meal inside them,” Peach said.
“That’s what the parents can afford, but it’s not the best thing for the kids.”
Tennessee and Illinois also participate. The option will be phased in nationwide over the next few years.
Of Kentucky’s 174 school districts, 102 qualify. Peach said 18 have signed on so far.
FIS considered taking part in the program last year, but opted out because of the cost. At the time, Peach estimated the school district would lose $2,500 a month if SSS joined.
Superintendent Rich Crowe told The State Journal that figure didn’t include all the factors. The program was new then, he said, and school district leaders now have “a much better handle on it.”
Frankfort Middle-High School doesn’t qualify, with less than 40 percent of students on assistance programs.
The school district could include FHS in the program because students from the elementary school eventually enroll there. But Peach estimates that food services would lose about $51,000 a year if they included both schools.
Peach and Crowe recommended the school board include only SSS, and its members agreed.
“If you don’t mind the store, if you aren’t grouping your schools appropriately, you’re going to lose your shirt on this,” Crowe said.
“It doesn’t work for all districts.”
Peach says lunch prices will stay the same in 2012-2013, but may have to increase the following year because of the higher cost of making meals under new federal guidelines.