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District Expands No-Cost Lunch Program

The Centralia School District Board of Directors unanimously approved a four year extension of participation in the popular Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) at their May 16th meeting. The CEP is a U. S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) program that allows districts with high percentages of low income families to offer meal services to all families at no charge.

The District has participated in the CEP for the past four years, providing no-charge breakfast and lunches to all kindergarten through sixth grade students as well as Futurus High School students. With renewed participation, the district will extend the no-charge meals to Centralia Middle School and Centralia High School for the 2018-19 school year. “We were able to identify that higher rates of direct certification meant we’d be able to offer no-charge meals at all of our schools with a minimal impact on our budget,” said Superintendent Mark Davalos. “We’re going to see how the financial aspect works out next year before deciding whether or not it makes fiscal sense to continue into future years.”

In May 2017, 69.2 percent of Centralia’s students qualified for free or reduced meals. That number is somewhat misleading, however, since application rates for free and reduced meals are also lower because of the district’s CEP participation. “Families are less likely to apply for free or reduced meals when they’re all already receiving them at no-charge,” said Food Services Director Mike Young. Whether a district qualifies for the CEP is based on direct certification, or the percentage of families in the district receiving some kind of state or federal benefit, such as Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. “Medicaid is a new qualifying factor this year,” said Young. “With that, a higher percentage of our families directly certify, which helps us further justify district-wide participation in the program.”

“Adequate nutrition is essential to the learning process for kids of all ages,” said Davalos. “It is an unfortunate reality that many students across our country only have regular access to nutritious meals at school. For some students, breaks in the school schedule lead to anxiety over access to meals. This has a profound negative effect on educational outcomes. By extending the CEP to all of our families we’re helping reduce the burden, anxiety, and other negative factors so our students can focus on learning,” he added.

The U.S.D.A. reimburses school districts that qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision. Additional support for participation comes from the district’s Educational Programs and Operations Levy and the general fund.