BATON ROUGE - Figures from the East Baton Rouge Parish School System show the district will have to shell out an extra half-million to provide free lunches for many more students in the distrct.
It's part of a federal program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture called the Community Eligibility Provision that was originally passed in as part of the larger Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The program is just now rolling out to Louisiana after being piloted in several other states.
Schools that opt into the program have to have a minimum number of students already receiving free or reduced lunches to qualify. Currently, 95 percent of students in the parish are on free or reduced lunch, which cost taxpayers $22 million dollars last year. The school said it will cost $500,000 more to cover the remaining 5 percent of students in the parish's qualifying schools.
"It's just like textbooks. We do not charge for textbooks," Dr. Nadine Mann said. "We do not charge for bus transportation."
The new program comes as welcome news to people who are struggling. The school estimates the free meals could save families more than $700 a year.
"We don't have to worry about no one being turned away saying they're not in the computer, haven't completed a lunch form," Kathleen Parms said. "It's a wonderful program."
"If you do for others, do for that one," Patricia Riley said.
EBR Schools said they will have to do without some cafeteria improvements in order to cover the additional costs.
The new program requires that 40 percent of the students in a school must come from households that are receiving food stamps in order to be eligible. News 2 checked with nearly all of the school districts in our area about whether the systems would join the program. Livingston and West Feliciana parishes said they were ineligible. Ascension and Iberville parishes opted out. St. Helena, East Feliciana and West Baton Rouge parishes are undecided.