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“We could say to every kid who comes to PISD, ‘Your meal is free, breakfast and lunch,’” Business Manager Tish Holleman said. “For our kids, that’s huge. We’ve got a lot of students on the bubble.”
In its last session, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring every campus with 80 percent of its students in free and reduced lunch to offer free breakfast to all students. That would apply to Givens, Head Start, Justiss and the alternative school.
“If we can just get them to show up and eat the free food, that’ll be a great way to start the day,” Holleman said.
One problem is that if the district limited it to those four, it could cause confusion for students who transfer between campuses, she said. But it would be very expensive to do that at all campuses.
As an alternative, PISD may want to consider taking advantage of the United States Department of Agriculture community eligibility provision, she said. The program would make breakfast and lunch free for all students.
If a district has 40 percent or more of its population automatically qualifying for free and reduced lunch – such as migrant, homeless or Head Start students – it may qualify for the program. At 60.3 percent, PISD meets that requirement. Because of its numbers, 96.46 percent would be considered free lunches, and only 3.54 percent paid.
Federal funds cannot subsidize the paid lunches. If it does, the district can wind up having to repay some of the money. A la carte purchases from the snack bar can be used to offset that difference, since they are not covered in the program.
Participating in the federal program would eliminate the current application process, which Holleman said is a problem. Many decline to fill it out, or fill it out wrong or turn it in too late.
The program is new to Texas, Superintendent Paul Jones said. The district has until June 30 to decide whether or not it wants to participate. It is a five-year program, but the district could opt out after the first year if it did not work out as hoped.
If PISD stays with its current system, meals could cost 10 cents more next year.
Food is a big part of the federal funds for PISD, including $1.25 million in the national school lunch program, $500,000 for breakfast, $115,000 in USDA donated commodities, $40,000 for the summer feeding program and $24,510 for a fresh fruit and vegetable program at Justiss Elementary School.