Bill to limit free school lunches could impact St. Landry

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A federal bill passed last week to change the federal school lunch program to make it harder for schools to qualify for federal assistance could impact St. Landry Parish Schools.

A House panel approved Rep. Todd Rokita’s bill, which Rokita, R-Indianapolis, argued will give schools greater flexibility in meeting nutritional standards while targeting assistance to students most in need, according to the IndyStar.

Since 2014, schools could offer free meals to all students if at least 40 percent were, among other factors, homeless, in foster care or in a family eligible for other means-tested benefit programs, according to the bill summary from the education and workforce committee.

The summary states the bill would raise the community eligibility provision (CEP) to 60 percent in order to better target resources to those students in need, while also ensuring all students who are eligible for assistance continue to receive assistance.

“It hurts our program in the amount of children who can get free meals,” said Lucretia Chancler, supervisor of child nutrition in St. Landry Parish.

In St. Landry Parish, 13 out of 28 schools would no longer qualify for the schoolwide free meal program, according to 2015-16 statistics from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.

“I understand the intent of this bill, but I hope our leaders in DC know that we should not be trying to save money by stopping kids from eating,” said Louisiana state Rep. Dustin Miller.

Chancler said Monday she is unsure of what schools would be affected with the new bill because the only projections so far are from 2015-16 statistics. She said the school board must approve the list of additional schools looking to enter the CEP program for the 2016-17 year and that hasn’t happened yet.

She said identified student percentage (ISP), which is used to determine if schools are eligible for CEP, runs on a four-year cycle. She said it would be premature to forecast what schools would be affected when the bill goes into effect at the beginning of next school year.

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