MILLEDGEVILLE — With more than 80 percent of Baldwin County public school students receiving free or reduced meals last school year, the school system has seen the percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced meals continually rise every year.
This academic year, the school system is participating in a federal school meal program, known as Provision 2, that will provide every student breakfast and lunch at no charge for the next four years, regardless of the student’s free, reduced price or paid eligibility category.
“Our percentages for free and reduced students has reached a level that Provision 2 is something we needed to look into. We have to have a high enough percentage of free and reduced meals to keep this program running,” said Jeanne Starr, director of school nutrition and food services for the Baldwin County public school system. “This is a wonderful benefit to our community; it’s a great thing. It’s just economical for us to do this. I’ve been here for three years, and [the number of students on free and reduced] has only increased since.”
With the school system participating in Provision 2 this year, all participating students will be served breakfast and lunch meals at no charge for the next four consecutive years. Provision 2 is a special assistance alternative of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) since the publication of regulations in 1980.
“During the first year, known as the base year, there is no change in procedures,” Starr said. “We’re going to take a financial loss the first year. After that first year, participation is expected to increase to such a level that we will begin to regain those losses.”
In return, Provision 2 offers schools a reduction in administrative burdens associated with the distribution of free and reduced price meal applications. Households experience a reduction in burden since they are not required to complete the free and reduced price meal applications or pay for meals.
“The group of people that are just under the reduced limit is the group that we want to help,” Starr said. “If you are even $5 over the income limit, you don’t qualify, so many families in this community are right there on that borderline.”
To participate in Provision 2, applications for Free and Reduced Meals must be completed and submitted to the School Nutrition Department or the school cafeteria as soon as possible.
“The base year for Baldwin County schools is 2013-2014. Therefore, this school year it is imperative that we receive applications from all parents, whether or not they wish to participate in the program,” Starr said. “At the end of this school year, the free, reduced and paid percentages that we end with will be the percentages that Baldwin County schools operate with for the next four years. In four years, USDA will review and if the community’s economic climate changes more than 5 percent up or down, we will have to go through the entire process over again to apply for Provision 2.”
The Community Eligibility Option program is the newest option available this school year for allowing Georgia schools with high percentages of low-income children to provide free breakfast and lunch to students. Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, all schools nationwide that meet the 40 percent identified student threshold will be eligible to participate in this option.
“The Community Eligibility Option program would benefit elementary schools, but did not benefit the middle and high schools, so financially we couldn’t do it,” Starr said. “In a smaller community like this, if parents are not paying at the elementary school, then they’re going to have to pay at the middle and high school. In comparison, Provision 2 is a benefit for all of the schools.”
For more information about Provision 2, or to submit an application, contact Starr at 478-457-3315, or visit baldwin.schooldesk.net and click on the Online Applications logo at the bottom of the webpage.
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