The program is new to Florida this year, and allows any school or school district to participate if 40 percent of their student's families are identified as low-income. If this is the situation, then all students, regardless of family finances are eligible to eat free breakfast and lunches.
So far, Florida has identified 67 counties eligible to participate, including Polk County, with 48 schools, and 58 schools in Penellas County.
The program, originally started as a way of allowing schools with high percentages of low-income children to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. The program was included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and eliminates paper applications.
The government says the program increases the number of eligible children in the program, reduced labor costs to the schools, and will increase government revenues. It will support a healthier student body and create a healthier school meal budget, according to officials.
The program has been available in Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan since the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Washington D.C., New York, Ohio and West Virginia were added to the program in the 2012-2013 school year.
The 2013-2014 school year saw the addition of Georgia, Maryland, Florida and Massachusetts schools. Starting with the 2014-2015 school year, all schools nationwide meeting the 40 percent identified student threshold requirement will be eligible to participate in the program.
Reports coming out of states already in the program show it has had a positive effect on students and schools. The program has been very helpful in schools being able to streamline their meal programs, with far less paper work as well as better menu planning being the reward.
Students in high-poverty school districts are benefiting the most from the program, and all children, regardless of their parent's financial standing in the community are eligible, and there is no longer a stigma attached to getting a free lunch. Richmond can certainly benefit from this program, and it is hoped the Board of Education is aware of it and making plans to utilize it.