Massena school seeks free lunches for all students

MASSENA — The Massena Central School Board of Education has approved a 10-cent price increase for lunches starting in the 2020-21 school year, but Superintendent Patrick Brady said they’re looking for a way to provide free lunches to all students.

He told board members Thursday night that, under the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act, they’re required to raise lunch prices over time to close the gap between the revenues they receive for paid meals versus free meal revenues. The increase must be a minimum of 10 cents.

That means lunches will be $2.55 in the elementary schools and $2.65 in the junior high and high school. There’s no change in the reduced price breakfast and lunch (25 cents) or the full student price of breakfast ($1.20).

“(Breakfast) hasn’t changed in a while,” Mr. Brady said.

He said they continue to look at a way they could provide all students with free meals but haven’t been able to do it yet.

“If we meet a certain threshold, then all of our students would be eligible for free and reduced lunch,” he said. “We’re looking at the data. It’s still looking like we’re not quite there.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the National School Lunch program, free lunches are currently available to children in households with incomes at or below 130 percent of poverty. Reduced-price lunches are available to children in households with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of poverty.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas. CEP allows the nation’s highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications.

Instead, schools that adopt CEP are reimbursed using a formula based on the percentage of students categorically eligible for free meals based on their participation in other specific means-tested programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

Mr. Brady said one local school district, Edwards-Knox, offers free meals to its students.

“Did they see any increase in their attendance?” board member Kevin Perretta asked. “I’d just be curious to see if there’s any correlation. We spend a lot of money on other programs or take on other initiatives that cost money to try to boost attendance and performance. This doesn’t have legacy costs for the most part, or they’re minimal.”

He said offering free lunches could be an incentive for some students to come to school.

“The biggest thing is to get them in the door. To get them in the door, you get a better chance of getting them across the stage,” Mr. Perretta said.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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