Free lunch for all offered at four schools

All students enrolled at Clifton, Chipeta, Dos Rios, and Nisley elementary schools, regardless of household income, can eat breakfast and lunch at school free of charge starting this school year.

Students at any school can apply for free or reduced-price school meals on an individual basis if they meet income guidelines under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program. Annual income requirements start with a base of $15,171 for the first family member and $5,278 for each additional family member for free school meals, and a base of $21,590 for the first family member and $7,511 for each additional family member for reduced-price meals.

Nisley, Chipeta, Dos Rios, and Clifton have some of the highest rates of students applying for free or reduced-price school meals in District 51. Nearly 83 percent of Clifton Elementary students applied for free or reduced-price meals last year, followed by 81 percent at Nisley, 80 percent at Dos Rios and 77 percent at Chipeta.

Students at Clifton, Chipeta, Dos Rios and Nisley can get free breakfast and lunch at school whether they meet income guidelines or not because they are participating in the Provision 2 program.

Any school can apply for Provision 2 status and offer all meals free of charge, but schools with a high percentage of low-income children are the most likely to apply because those schools are more likely to break even on the cost of providing food and labor to serve school meals thanks to federal reimbursements.

Schools nationwide are reimbursed by the federal government between 28 cents and 42 cents for every meal served to paying students, between $2.58 and $2.81 for every meal served to a reduced price-qualifying student, and from $2.98 to $3.21 for each meal served to a student who has applied for free breakfast and lunch.

District 51 Nutrition Services Director Dan Sharp said the goal of Program 2 participation is to get more students through school lunch and breakfast lines and serve students who may qualify for free meals but have not applied for them and would otherwise go hungry. If more students eat school meals and the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals remains the same in a school (Provision 2 schools use a baseline free and reduced count for the following three years), the school gets more reimbursement money, which Sharp said he is counting on to cover the deficit left by not charging students who would otherwise pay for meals. If that plan does not work out, the program can be dropped at the end of any school year.

Eligible students at Provision 2 schools only need to fill out free and reduced-price meal application forms every four years but those families are still encouraged to fill out a similar application, called a family economic data survey form, each year so that the school can continue to qualify for other low-income funding, such as Title I dollars.

Rocky Mountain Elementary, which had 84 percent of students apply for free or reduced-price meals last fall, started offering free breakfast and lunch for all students last year under a different program.

Sharp said there are no plans to expand free meals for all students to any other schools in the district.


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