Photo by Johnny Jackson
Audrey Hamilton is the nutrition services director for Clayton County Public Schools. She and her department applied for the Community Eligibility Option for Free Meal Reimbursement this spring and won the option through 2017. Clayton’s students will eat breakfast and lunch for free during that time.
JONESBORO — It costs $12 million to feed a school district of 52,000 students. But this year, that money will not be coming from students.
Clayton County Public Schools will implement the Community Eligibility Option for free meal reimbursement through the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, which targets low-income students. It will allow students district-wide to receive breakfast and lunch free.
Audrey Hamilton is the nutrition services director. She said the department applied for and won federal funding this past spring to cover more than 95 percent of the student body with the free school meals. The rest will be absorbed in the nearly $30 million nutrition services budget.
The district is expected to participate in the free meals program until June 30, 2017.
Hamilton said the department will no longer have to process the nearly 100,000 free and reduced lunch applications it typically processes between August and October.
She said there will be no distinction now between who qualifies for the free and reduced lunch program and who does not. About 87 percent of the student body qualifies.
“It eliminates that stigma,” she said.
Hamilton said the district stands to save roughly $407,000. She said parents who pay full- or reduced-price lunches for their students will save a collective $1.8 million. However, adults will still have to pay.
The department of 573 food nutrition workers and central office staff is anticipating more participation this year at breakfast and lunch as a result of the free meals program.
Its participation rate for the 2012-13 school year was 84 percent.
“I expect it to increase at least another 10 percent,” said Hamilton. “We feel like we play an important role in the daily operations of the district, because having a child fed contributes to the academic success of a child and the district.”