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BOE examines free meals program for students

JONESBORO — Students in Clayton County Public Schools could eat for free next year.

Nutrition Services Director Audrey Hamilton said all 52,000 students in the district would receive free lunch if the school board moves forward in implementing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Option pilot program.

CEO is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act Law of 2010, which targets low-income families. Schools participating in the pilot must exceed a 40-percent minimum of enrollment qualifying for free or reduced-price meals.

Hamilton said students in grades K-12 would be able to get free breakfast and lunch for up to four consecutive years, starting July 1.

Georgia was selected to participate in the second phase of the CEO pilot, which was launched in 2011 as part of a Universal Free Meal program.

Hamilton said her department submitted a letter of interest to the Georgia Department of Education to participate. She said 87 percent of the district’s students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

By participating in CEO, she said, the district would eliminate collecting free and reduced-price meal applications, meal charges and alternative meals. Her department would also save on paper and printing costs for those applications.

The district stands to save roughly $407,000, said Hamilton, noting that households that pay reduced-price meals would also not have to pay. Some $1.8 million would be saved on students’ reduced-price and paid lunches. Adults would still have to pay.

Clayton County would be the first metro Atlanta district to enter 100 percent of its schools into CEO, she added. The Universal Free Meal program is expected to roll out nationally after the 2013-14 school year.

Hamilton said she hopes to get the board’s official approval soon.