The Guilford County School District will stop offering free universal lunch and breakfast at several of its schools. The changes will take effect this fall.
The district is opting out of a federal program called the Community Eligibility Provision, (CEP). The program provides funding to offer meals for all students at schools in low-income areas.
District officials say the number of students identified through CEP has been declining. It's a concern because CEP can be a factor in Title 1 funding, another federal program, which provides money to schools with high percentages of children living in poverty.
“We've seen that, not just in Guilford County, but across the state and across the nation,” says Angie Henry, chief financial officer with the school system. “We don't know if that's because the economy is getting better and families are coming out of poverty, or if it's because how families qualify for services has changed, and there is also some concern that undocumented families are unwilling right now in the current environment to file for any services for support."
Currently, 58 Guilford County schools participate in the CEP program. But now families will have to apply to receive the meals.
School officials say the change will help them identify more students facing poverty, so they can reallocate funds for additional services to meet students' needs.
“We are doing this because it will give us an accurate count of students in poverty in our district, which right now we just don't have," she says.
Families that receive food stamps, or similar forms of government assistance don't have to fill out the application form.
“We are trying to make the application as easy as possible,” says Henry. “There will be a link on our webpage and app, and they will be sent home with students. It's important for us as a district to remove any barriers. It will be available in different languages as well.”
Henry says the district has created more programs to reach kids throughout the year. Guilford County Schools recently expanded its snack and summer meals program. She says school leaders will also consider other ways to offer universal meals in a small number of schools.
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