Tribune-Courier News Reporter
The cost of a school lunch will increase by a dime when students head back to the classroom on Aug. 7.
Food Service Director Beth Cunningham announced at the Board of Education meeting last week that the school lunch price will jump from $1.75 to $1.85.
The price increase is a result of directives from state Department of Education that are outlined by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, and not a result of the county schools that qualify for free lunches under the the Community Eligibility Program.
Jonathan Elementary and South Elementary qualified for the free-lunch program under CEP guidelines last year.
The HHFKA outlines a paid lunch equity for all school districts participating in the National School Lunch Program and requires the schools to provide the same support for lunches served to students who are not eligible for free or reduced lunches as they are for lunches served to students eligible for free lunches.
This means that the school must receive the same amount of income from paid lunches as they receive from federal reimbursement for free or reduced-price lunches.
The previous cost for lunch in the county schools was $1.75. For each lunch, the school received a federal reimbursement of 34 cents, with a total price of $2.09 per paid lunch served.
The federal reimbursement rate for free lunches for school year 2014-15 is $3.04 per lunch served.
The total price for paid lunches must match the total price for free lunches. Because the paid lunch price and the free lunch price are not currently equal, the school district must gradually adjust the paid lunch prices until the prices are equal.
Starting in the school year 2014-15, the paid lunch prices were raised by $0.10 to be in compliance with federal mandates and will now cost $1.85.
Cunningham predicts that the prices will have to increase by another 5-10 cents again next year because even with the current price increase, there is still a significant gap between the prices for paid lunch and free lunch.
Cunningham said, “Really, for them to only make us go up 10 cents is pretty good because our margin is large.”
Cunningham told the board that she called surrounding counties to compare lunch prices and found that Marshall County will still offer lower prices in comparison. She said McCracken, Graves and Hickman counties all charge more than $2 for paid lunches and Calloway County charges $1.85.
Cunningham also reported that two additional county schools, Calvert Elementary and South Middle, qualified for the free lunch program. Jonathan Elementary and South Elementary qualified again this year and will retain that assistance.
The CEP allows schools that predominantly serve low-income children to offer free meals to all students in that school.
It’s important that students participate in all meal programs no matter which school they attend so the district doesn’t lose necessary federal funding that supports food services for the county system.
“Participation means they’re eating lunch,” Cunningham said. “Our whole goal is to get as many kids to eat lunch and breakfast as possible.”