LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Three out of every four students at Jefferson County Public Schools would qualify for a free lunch under a proposal the school board will consider Tuesday.
JCPS administrators are looking to join a federal program that would allow 55,000 students at 95 schools to receive free meals, regardless of their parents' income.
It would mean hundreds of dollars in savings for some parents, while the federal government reimburses the district for providing the free meals for more students.
"It's a benefit because the parents can use that money for other educational purposes or to save for college," said Julia Bauscher, JCPS' director of school and community nutrition. "It also assures the student has access to a healthy meal."
Families who currently pay the entire cost of school meals would save more than $700 a year per student, Bauscher said. Students who qualify for reduced-cost meals, but not free meals, would save $122 per year, she said.
The school board will vote Tuesday whether to join the federal program and finalize the list of 95 schools.
The cost of a school meal will increase to $2.60 starting in August, Bauscher said.
Parents and grandparents of JCPS students said they supported joining the program, especially because local property taxes wouldn't pay for it.
"Bottom line, as long as it's not coming out of the taxpayers' pocket," said Steve Derossett, whose child's school would not qualify. "It seems like a win for everyone because the kids are happy and it's a level playing field, so it's great."
Parents wouldn't have to fill out an often burdensome form to qualify for free meals because the federal program is based on the percentage of needy students at each school, Bauscher said.
It also eliminates the stigma associated with free or reduced-cost meals at schools if no one is paying, she said.
"I think it's a great thing," said Kenneth Osborne, a grandparent of JCPS students who go to qualifying schools. "(Parents) can take care of other things -- more clothes for the kids, more school supplies, food."
JCPS administrators estimate the changes would increase the number of students eating free lunches from 62,000 to 74,000, or about three-fourths of the district.
The number of students eating free breakfast would increase from 39,000 to 62,000, administrators said.
This fall, JCPS will begin serving only whole-grain bread and adhere to new guidelines that require meals with less sodium. Recently, new regulations mandate that all children take fruit or vegetables as they go through the lunch line, meaning that nutrition has "improved immensely," Bauscher said.
Last month, Indianapolis Public Schools announced that 100 percent of its students would qualify for free meals under the same program because all of its schools qualified based on need.
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