By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
RAVENA-COEYMANS-SELKIRK — Three of the RCS district’s four schools qualified for a federal program that provides free breakfasts and lunches to all students in the school regardless of household income.
The only district school not to qualify for the program was RCS High School.
“Three of our buildings — both of our elementary schools and our middle school — have been approved for CEP, which means there will be free lunch and breakfast for just the students in the elementary school and the middle school for the whole year,” said School Business Administrator Jesse Boehme at the July 12 meeting of the RCS Board of Education. “Not, unfortunately, for the high school.”
CEP, or the Community Eligibility Provision, is a program offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides funding for meals for all students at schools that qualify.
“The Community Eligibility Provision is a non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas,” according to the USDA website. “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.”
RCS High School was the only district school that did not qualify for the program, so families of students at the high school must still fill out an application to determine if they qualify for free breakfasts and lunches.
“You have to hit the 40% mark through the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program),” Boehme said. “If 40% of your kids fall under this category in each building, you automatically get it and we did for those three buildings, but unfortunately the high school did not.”
The two elementary schools and the middle school will qualify for the CEP for the next four years, and at that time will have to reapply to determine if they are still eligible.
Board member Teddy Reville suggested the district look at providing funds to offer free meals to all students at the high school even though the school does not qualify for the federal program.
“I think we need to look at what the cost impact would be if we did it for all four buildings,” Reville said. “I think just to simplify things.”
Board member Jennifer Molino said it could be confusing for families.
“It would be confusing for the kids as they move from the middle school to the high school,” Molino said. “The elementary schools shouldn’t be a problem because they are both free, but it kind of sets up some kids for disappointment.”
The district would still be reimbursed by the federal government for high school students whose families qualify for the free meals, Reville said.
“So it’s not like 100% of the cost would be coming back to us,” Reville said
Boehme said he would calculate costs of having the district provide free breakfasts and lunches to all students at RCS High School, with the district picking up some of the cost.
“If that’s the will of the board, I can definitely look into that,” he said.
Boehme said there is discussion at the federal level of lowering the threshold for schools to be eligible for the program to 25% instead of 40%, and if that happens the high school would be eligible.
Under the current structure, the high school missed qualifying for CEP by around 15 students.
Families in the high school should still apply for free and reduced meals to determine if they are eligible.