FRAMINGHAM — Framingham Public Schools students will still be able to receive free breakfast and lunch next school year, after the School Committee unanimously voted to participate in a federal program that allows high-need schools to serve free meals to all students.
Currently, the Community Eligibility Provision is implemented at Thayer Campus, Fuller Middle School, Cameron Middle School, Barbieri Elementary School, Brophy Elementary School, Harmony Grove Elementary School and McCarthy Elementary School.
The committee’s vote means the entire district will transition to the program for the next four years.
“I believe a positive vote to enter into a district wide CEP program will benefit our families and students as we continue to remove barriers for our school community,” wrote Lincoln Lynch IV, executive director of finance and operations, in a memo to the committee .
The US Department of Agriculture made meals free for all students throughout the country thanks to federal waivers awarded in 2020. But the recent appropriations package passed by Congress does not include extending the current free school lunch program past June 30.
This means students and families across the country will have to pay for breakfast, lunch and a la carte items again at schools starting with the 2022-23 school year.
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Lynch said he reviewed the district’s high-needs student percentages with the new food services director, before recommending the move.
The estimated cost to the district will be about $300,000 per year, said Lynch. The additional costs will be covered by the district’s food service revolving account. Due to the USDA’s current program, the district has received more reimbursements for student meals than in recent years, which will help cover costs of the districtwide CEP initiative.
“Yes, there’s a cost to doing it but there is a cost for not doing it as well,” said School Committee member William LaBarge. “One is having to devote resources to tracking down those missing dollars — resources that could be better spent on helping the kids — and two, what consequences are there if kids are deprived their proper lunch.”
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Not all MetroWest communities qualify to revert to the Community Eligibility Provision. For instance, while Framingham can enter it districtwide, Ashland Public Schools cannot, said state Rep. Jack Lewis, D-Framingham, whose legislative district includes both communities.
Leaders from Project Bread recently briefed legislators on the state of hunger in Massachusetts, and asserted the need for rapid action on a new bill that would extend the Universal Free School Meals program in the state.
The Boston-based food access nonprofit estimates the end of the program will mean the loss of access to an estimated five million meals for children will be lost. School meals were the top source of free food in the state during the pandemic, and many communities in Massachusetts will lose access to them throughout the summer and into the next academic year.
The bill needs to be passed before the June 30 expiration date, or students throughout the state will lose access to vouchers for summer meals. Jennifer Lemmerman, vice president of public policy at Project Bread, stressed the stakes for children and families, and the need to get moving before the consequences come to pass.
Lynch told the Daily News that the district would not withdraw its application for the Community Eligibility Provision if the bill ends up getting passed.
Meanwhile, Natick Public Schools will return to the National School Lunch Program, due to the end of the free universal lunch program. Free and reduced price meals will only be offered to students directly certified for these meals or approved through a household application.
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Those applications become available on July 1.
The district’s Summer Eats sites will not be available this year either.
“We understand that this is a big change for all, and we’re notifying you now so you’re aware you’ll need to re-adjust to meal charges after such a long time without having to worry about it,” the wrote district in a newsletter.
Information from the Statehouse News Service was used in this report.
Zane Razzaq writes about education. Reach her at 508-626-3919 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @zanerazz.