by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Thanks to a new option in the school lunch program, students in seven Falls schools have been receiving free lunches this year. Even if they didn't previously qualify.
The new Community Eligibility Option in the National School Lunch Program is an alternative to the previous way of calculating free or reduced price lunch distribution, which compensates districts differently for lunch provisions. It uses data from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to determine eligibility, school-wide, for free lunches.
"A school must have at least 40 percent of its students certified for free meals through the direct certification (DC) information obtained from SNAP or TANF," Administrator for School Business Services Timothy Hyland said. "A multiplier of 1.6 is applied to a school's DC number to calculate the number of students in that school that the district will be paid the Free Lunch Reimbursement Rate from the USDA."
It's particularly beneficial to high-poverty districts like Niagara Falls, Hyland said.
Hyland used Niagara Street School, the district's most populated elementary building, in his example presented to school board members Thursday. The school, with 641 students, has 509 qualified for free lunches under the old calculation, with an additional 33 paying reduced price. Hyland said reimbursement calculations figured to provide the district $1,570 every month.
Under the new formula, about 597 meals would be reimbursed at free rates, increasing the monthly figure to $1,701. Still, all students at the school receive a free meal, whether the district gets money for them or not, Hyland said.
"When a school district chooses the CEO option there is no longer a distinction between free, reduced-price, and full-pay eligibility for students," he said. "All students are designated and given free meals in any school that meets the criteria for the CEO option."
Hyland said the district will likely exceed its lunch fund revenues because of the option. Originally, the district believed it would see an additional $49,000. But Hyland said that figure will be surpassed later this month, with four months of school still to come.
The seven schools receiving free meals include Abate, Cataract, Hyde Park and Niagara elementary schools, Kalfas Magnet and both LaSalle and Gaskill preparatory schools. In addition, Superintendent Cynthia Bianco estimated two – 79th Street Elementary and the high school – are close to becoming eligible next year.
"Right now, about 66 percent of our students are on free or reduced lunch," Bianco said. "This is a pretty high percentage."