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All Charlottesville students will be eligible for free meals this school year

Charlottesville will no longer have to cover the debt of students with remaining lunch balances at the end of the school year.

Charlottesville City Schools students divisionwide will now be eligible for free meals through the Community Eligibility Provision program.

The division is adding its final schools to its list of those already operating under the program.

““We had six schools last year that we’re on this program, so we’re rolling in our last three,” Carlton Jones, Charlottesville school nutrition administrator, told The Daily Progress. Those final three include Burnley-Moran, Greenbrier and Venable elementary schools.

Jones said the program helps to reduce the stigma of free and reduced lunch and puts everybody on the same playing field.

“It’s tough times for a lot of families and parents out there,” Jones said. “So knowing that the student can come to school and receive a free breakfast or free lunch, it’s definitely positive.”

The Community Eligibility Provision program is a “non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It allows schools and districts with the nation’s highest poverty levels provide breakfast and lunch at no cost without collecting household applications.

Charlottesville first began participating in the program in 2019, according to Amanda Korman, Charlottesville schools spokeswoman.

“Previously, at schools that were not in the Community Eligibility Provision program (CEP) (in 22-23 this was just Burnley-Moran, Greenbrier, and Venable), families were invited to apply for free meals,” Korman said in an email.

Full rates for meals included $1.50 for breakfast at all schools, $2.50 for K-8 lunch and $2.75 for Charlottesville High School lunch, Korman said.

“If any student had a negative balance in their meal account at the end of the year, the division covered those debts with donations and other funding sources,” she said.

The division has spent more than $10,000 in the past, according to Jones.

“The negative balances before we started the program, they were well over $10,000, well over, so now it just eliminates all of that,” Jones said.

Schools participating in the program are reimbursed. A formula is developed based on “the percentage of students categorically eligible for free meals based on their participation in other specific means-tested programs,” per the Department of Agriculture. Those programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.

The implementation of the program can move forward in the remaining schools not already participating, Jones said.

“We’ve been told we can move forward and roll out the program districtwide,” he said.

More students have been getting free lunches since the the program started.

“Our last year at Charlottesville High School, we had probably about a 25 or 30% increase in daily participation,” Jones said.

All Charlottesville City Schools are expected to be in the program this school year, making all students eligible for free meals. Jones said he hopes to continue seeing participation in the program increase.

“One thing I’m excited about is that we’re eliminating negative debt, so it’s not a burden to parents,” Jones said. “The next thing, I would love to see more students participate in school meals.”


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