This school year, all students within the McCracken County School District will be able to eat for free. This includes breakfast, lunch and the late snacks provided at the schools.
The first day of school for students was Friday.
The school district qualified to provide free meals to all students through the federal Community Eligibility Program (CEP) based on its percentage of direct certified students, which reflects the number of homeless, migrant and foster children as well as those who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, or SNAP, all of whom automatically qualify for free meals.
"This is the first year for us to offer free meals districtwide," said Sara Jane Hedges, the McCracken County Schools director of food services. "We actually kind of staggered the transition. Originally, it was six schools, then eight schools and, now, all 10."
Hedges said, when school districts make the decision to offer free meals to all students, that eliminates some state revenue through those who paid for part or all of their meals, but that revenue is reimbursed.
"You have to look at your participation percentage (of direct certified students)," she said. "Over the past few years, that percentage of students has increased, and that has allowed us to meet the qualifications for the Community Eligibility Program.
"We will get reimbursement from the state per plate that we serve," she said. "A lot of (districts) go full CPE because that reimbursement rate is higher because you're eliminating that cash flow of paid- and reduced-(cost) students."
Hedges said the free food available to McCracken County students includes breakfast, lunch and a "super snack," which is a snack provided late in the school day.
"So, students are going to be able to eat three free meals a day," she said. "That's going to save parents an average of $6 to $7 a day per student, and if you have more than one child in the district, that's quite the savings.
"These are very healthy, five-component meals that include whole grain, reduced sodium, low-fat foods with fresh fruits and vegetables. So, you're getting a very high-quality plate at no cost."
Hedges said parents need to fill out a household income form available at the McCracken County Schools website. To find it, go to mccracken.kyschools.us, move the cursor over the "Quick Links" tab and click on "Food Services."
"That helps categorize our students into three categories: traditional, free or reduced-cost and paid," she said. "This form is really not used for food services like it was in the past, because all students are eating for free.
"It's very important for parents to fill out this form so that the district has the income information ... so it can qualify for other types of funding, other grant funding. So, it's very important for our parents districtwide to fill out this form."
Superintendent Steve Carter said allowing all students to eat free was a great opportunity.
"It's very important that everybody participates and takes advantage of that," he said. "If students want extra food, they can still purchase extra items a la carte. To make sure that we are able to do this long-term, participation is critical."