A number of Ross County schools have qualified for a federal program that offers lunch at no cost to a school's entire student body. Those schools include Huntington, Paint Valley, Mt. Logan, Tiffin, and Worthington.
The Community Eligibility Program covers the cost of food for schools that have been deemed economically distressed and have at least 40% of their study body eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Huntington Schools Treasurer Becki Peden said they have a student enrollment of 1,265, and 48.7% of last year's student population identified with the criteria.
Peden estimates the district budgets $74,000 a month on food: "We file monthly claims with the Ohio Department of Education, but, in the future, we'll do the same, but we will get reimbursed for a percentage of those students at the free rate and a different percentage at the paid rate, and then we'll be reimbursed the following month."
Paint Valley Schools Superintendent Tim Winland believes this will have a positive impact on the students' experience, as students there get both a free breakfast and lunch for 2013-2014.
"I think that any time a student doesn't eat, I think that certainly affects their ability to focus on what's going on in the classroom," he said.
Both Winland and Peden said every student will get a free lunch but will have the option to buy a la carte items. In fact, Peden said students at Huntington who have money remaining in their accounts from last year will be able to use that money for extra items this year.
Cafeteria staff will tally the number of lunches distributed to the students but will charge faculty members.
"The students will come through the line and get a free lunch, no matter whether they would have normally qualified for free or reduced lunch," said Peden. "We won't be taking their names; it will be an anonymous system, which is what the program is designed to do."
The Community Eligibility Program has the potential to serve districts for up to 4 years. For more information, click here.