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More eligible for free lunches

An increase in the federally subsidized meal plans for school children may provide a glimpse into the current economic conditions in Grady County.
According to Grady County School Nutrition Director Rhonda Keve, 54.82 percent of the students enrolled in Grady County schools qualified for free or reduced lunch when she became director at the beginning of the 2001-02 school year.
Last year, however, she said enrollment for free or reduced price meals rose to 65.84 percent and has climbed to 69.43 percent (3,123 students) for the current school year. Keve believes the growth in the number of children qualifying for free or reduced meals is a direct reflection of the current economic conditions.  “The economy is the biggest factor,” she says.
In a recent article in the Bainbridge Post-Searchlight, Decatur County School Nutrition Director Debbie Crosten-Purcell reported that the number of students on the federally subsidized meal plans jumped to 72.48 percent, and agreed with Keve, that the number is a sign of the economy.
Keve says the Georgia Department of Education is notified when families become eligible for SNAP or TANF funding and then provides her department with a list of students who automatically are qualified for free eligibility status.  Although eligibility guidelines usually change annually, she noted that the revised guidelines are virtually the same as last year.
Of the 4,498 students enrolled in the Grady County school system as of the October FTE count, the number of students qualifying for free meals is 2,813 and reduced, 310.
The school nutrition program is reimbursed $2.70 for free students, $2.30 for reduced students and $.27 for paid students.
Regular paying elementary students are charged $1.00, middle school, $1.25, and high school students, $1.50. All reduced student’s pay $.40. Adult meals are $2.50.
All funding for the school lunch program is with federal dollars—no local taxes.  “The only local money the program receives is from the paying students, or the reduced-eligibles and adults,” reported Keve.
The school nutrition program is responsible for purchasing all food, paying school nutrition staff salaries and benefits, purchasing of equipment for food preparation and serving, and repairing parts and furnishings in the cafeterias. Other expenses include pest control for the cafeteria, cleaning chemicals, fire suppression system upgrades and service, grease trap pumping, hood cleaning, office supplies, postage, telephone expenses, travel for training, and fuel and upkeep of the school nutrition vehicle. School nutrition also reimburses the Board of Education for a percentage of energy use.
In 1995 the Grady County School system decided to offer “Provision 2 breakfast,” which would allow all students to eat breakfast at no cost and that program continues today.

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