Polk County school board approves free meals for all students

Published 12:32 pm Thursday, May 11, 2023

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Every student in Polk County Schools will receive free breakfast and lunch during the 2023-24 school year.

During its regular monthly meeting Monday at Stearns Education Center, the Polk County Board of Education voted to approve all schools for use of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) as those sites participate in the federal child nutrition program. That means all Polk County students will receive free breakfast and lunch on school days in the 2023-24 academic year.

The CEP program is designed to streamline free and reduced meal reimbursement for public schools to ensure all students have access to breakfast and lunch during the school day without having to complete applications. CEP eligibility is based on the school’s student poverty rates, and all schools in the district qualify under new guidelines that include participation in other programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). 

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Child Nutrition Director Jennifer Peeler gave a presentation to the board outlining the details of using CEP, noting that the district will incur a loss of somewhere between $75,000-$100,000 to have all schools participate. Despite that potential deficit, board members agreed that CEP was the right decision for students, as some families often never complete free lunch applications and, historically, more students eat school meals when those are offered at no cost.

Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene noted that the district has been fortunate in the past to have donors willing to make up child nutrition revenue losses so that all kids can eat free, and the board expressed hope that philanthropy will continue next year.

In other business:

* Tryon Elementary students offered a presentation about their student-led science instruction project on body systems, and how teacher Donna Godley’s guidance helped them teach other students about their assigned system.

* Peeler provided a summary of the Summer Feeding Program, through which school kitchens will be making and delivering meals to summer programs at schools, churches and other parts of the community.

* The board heard a presentation from Student Services Director Toni Haley on the district’s current Exceptional Children’s headcount and how increasing numbers continue to highlight state and federal funding deficiencies in this area.

* The board approved two overnight student field trips in June, one for FFA Camp and the other for the North Carolina FFA Convention.

* Director of Operations Dr. Brandon Schweitzer gave the board an update on the Digital Learning Dashboard and several new and ongoing facility projects in the district.

* The Board approved several budget amendments as presented by Finance Officer Debbie Lovelace.

The next Polk County Board of Education meeting will be held on June 5.