A program that permitted Mansfield City Schools to serve free lunches to all students during the 2018-2019 school year, regardless of family income, proved to be a win for both students and the district.
Food service manager Lauren Moran said district cafeterias served an average of 2,500 lunches each day, an increase of about 150 over last year. Not only did more students each lunch, the district received an additional $200,000 in federal lunch reimbursement, more than offsetting the additional costs.
Last summer the board of education approved the district’s participation in the Ohio Department of Education’s Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). The program eliminates the need to verify income for free or reduced-price lunches and is intended to increase student participation.
“It (CEP) has been really good. I don’t see a down side to it,” Moran said. “We didn’t know what to expect at the start of the school year. But our cafeteria staffs handled the increase really well. Without them this program could not have succeeded. We plan to participate in CEP again next year.”
The district serves lunch each day to students in kindergarten through twelfth grade and to afternoon preschool classes. All students have been eligible for free breakfasts at each school.
“To me, the most important aspect of CEP is that all students could receive a free nutritionally balanced lunch,” Moran said. “It removed the stigma for a student who didn’t have money for lunch on a particular day. Previous policy called for that student to receive an alternative lunch, which included a sandwich.”
CEP eliminated the massive amount of paperwork that the food service department previously had to complete to verify income levels of families who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. The district has a poverty rate of about 85 percent.
District treasurer Robert Kuehnle also was pleased by the results of the free lunch initiative. Before the board of education approved CEP last summer they were told it might cost the food service program $18,000 and the general fund $23,000. “We did our due diligence in outlining a worst-case scenario,” Kuehnle said. “Participation was much higher than our original estimates. It worked out well for all.”
Photo: Manager Lauren Moran met with the district’s food service staff for an in-service training session after the conclusion of the school year.
Source, Photo: Mansfield City Schools