All students in the Knox County Public Schools will be provided with free breakfast and lunch this year thanks to a new federal program.
The Knox County Board of Education announced at its special called Board meeting on Monday night that the district has opted to participate in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Community Eligibility Option (CEO).
The CEO provision allows eligible school districts to provide free meal service to all students, regardless of their economic status. Knox is one of 106 districts in Kentucky that qualified for the program, but only one of few that has decided to participate.
“It is a privilege of the Knox County Board of Education to provide this service to our students,” said Superintendent Walter T. Hulett. “We know that in these economic times, all families regardless of income are looking at ways of cutting costs.”
Many districts have decided not to participate in the program due to reimbursement rates it offers. The CEO option reimburses districts at a reduced level based on the percentage of households in the community who currently receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, referred to as the food stamp program. The school district will see a reduction in their reimbursement amount once students who typically paid for their lunch are figured in the funding formula.
The amount that the Knox County Board could have to pay due to the reduction in reimbursement is around $55,000 according to Hulett.
“The Board will pick up any costs associated with this pilot program during its initial year,” stated Hulett. “This is a small cost to pay to ensure that every student has two hot, nutritious, meals each day.”
Those meal costs will be one less concern for parents. A family of two students who attend school every day, and pay full price to eat both breakfast and lunch, can expect to save $744 this year.
Hulett pointed out that in order for the pilot program to be successful in Knox County, parents will be expected to participate in data collection conducted by the district that is submitted to the USDA.
“While we are introducing this initiative to provide free meals to all students in Knox County, parents must complete any necessary paperwork in order for our district to receive the maximum amount of reimbursement. Parents will be expected to complete the lunch application forms as they have in the past that has determined whether their child qualified for free or reduced lunch.
“Our principals and Family Resource Center staff may be contacting parents for additional information necessary for the district to participate.”
Data collected will also help the district continue to qualify for grants and federal funding. Most federal programs rely on free and reduced lunch data to determine a district’s eligibility in receiving assistance. Among the programs that depend on this data are Title I, Family Resource Centers, e-rate technology reimbursement, SEEK reimbursement, and preschool.
“The Knox County Board can only support this program if it does not cause funding cuts in other programs that use the free and reduced data.
“Further participation in CEO is contingent upon parents providing the information necessary to report our data and minimal impact on the funding of other programs and services.”
Free meals to all students will begin this Wednesday, August 3, when Knox students return to school. The district will be distributing additional information about the CEO option to its parents on the first day of school.