New free lunch program says everyone's eligible

Four Elkhart elementary schools are part of a federal aid program where students don’t have to pay for lunch, even if their families can afford to pay. 

Posted on July 15, 2014 at 12:11 p.m.

Everybody gets a free lunch, at least at some Elkhart County schools.

A new federal program called Community Eligibility Provision allows four Elkhart elementary schools to give every student a free lunch, regardless of need, starting in the 2014-15 school year.

The Elkhart schools participating in the program are Beardsley, Mary Beck, Roosevelt and Woodland. 

Chandler Elementary in Goshen may also participate but the school board hasn't yet made a final decision.

Community Eligibility is designed to save time and paperwork for schools where many students qualify for a discounted meal because their families also qualify for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or other government help.

At Mary Beck, more than 90 percent of students don’t pay full price for lunch, according to the Indiana Department of Education. Other schools have more than 80 percent of students who get discounted lunches.

For schools like Mary Beck, the Community Eligibility program makes it easier for schools to help more families and cuts out the task of collecting money from non-qualifying paying families. 

Schools still get reimbursed by the federal government for the free meals, so it won’t cost more to participate in the program. In fact, some schools may see their reimbursement rate go up.

Still, Community Eligibility does mean that parents who were paying for their child’s lunch at these schools won’t be paying anymore — even if they can easily afford the price of the meal.

Chamberlain and West Goshen are already offering free lunch to all students under provision 2 of the federal aid program.

If Chandler joins the four Elkhart schools that will start Community Eligibility this fall, that means a total of 551 students who paid full price for lunch last year will now get their lunch for free, based on a look at last year’s count of who pays and who doesn't. 

Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks

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