In York City schools, there is a free lunch

March 27–All students of the York City School District will eat breakfast and lunch free next year if the federal government accepts York into a new program.

In April, Pennsylvania will release a list of schools that qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

“Unless there’s some surprise we don’t know about,” each of York’s seven schools will be on that list, said Cathy Ash, the district’s federal program coordinator.

Then, it’s up to the district to opt in, which administrators are already planning to do, Ash said.

Assuming all goes as planned, starting this fall, all of the district’s students will get two meals each day free over the next four years, Ash said.

“Everybody’s going to eat the same regardless of their economic status,” Ash said. “It’s no longer the haves and have-nots. It’s everybody’s got the same options every day.”

The change: Through the National School Lunch Program, most York City students already eat free or pay reduced prices for lunch. The federal government then reimburses the district the cost of those meals.

But, to qualify, parents must now first fill out a form each year so the district can determine students’ eligibility.

The Community Eligibility Provision eliminates that paperwork burden on both parents and district staff. It also should produce a modest cost-savings by relieving the district of labor costs associated with implementing the free- and reduced-lunch program each year, Ash said.

“That’s huge in our district,” she said.

Ash said she expects the district will be obligated to cover a small percentage of meal costs, but she’s not yet sure how much.

When the program goes into effect, it will also eliminate the need for a policy approved by the school board in November designed to discourage parents from mooching off the district.

Currently, students who fail to pay for their meals more than three times get a cheese sandwich for lunch until their full balance is paid.

“It takes all that away,” Ash said of the provision.

The new program will also mean no students will be denied the ability to graduate with their class because they owe the district lunch money, Ash said.

Staff will still need to pay for their meals, so cashiers in the cafeteria are still needed, Ash said.

And, it’s possible students will have the option to buy a la carte items, she said.