Starting next year, Spokane Public Schools will offer free breakfast and lunch to every student, every day at Grant, Holmes and Stevens elementary schools.
The free meals will be a spinoff of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010; the “community eligibility provision” was phased in across the country and goes into effect in Washington this year.
Offering free meals to all students should increase the number of kids eating nutritious food each day, said Kevin Morrison, spokesman for the state’s second-largest school district.
In the first three states to take part – Kentucky, Illinois and Michigan – for example, the number of kids eating lunch rose by 13 percent and the number eating breakfast rose by 25 percent after two years, according to a 2013 report.
What’s more, families no longer will have to apply for free or reduced-price meals, “which means no waiting for application approval before kids can eat,” Morrison said. Meal service will be quicker, leaving kids more time to finish their food. And school personnel no longer will have to make potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable phone calls to families about negative lunch-money balances, he said.
To qualify, a school must be in an area where at least 40 percent of the surrounding community uses government subsidies such as food stamps or welfare, the federal law states. The federal government will reimburse the district for food costs.
Participation can put some of the schools’ other state and federal funding at risk because those programs are based on applications for free and reduced-price meals.
But Doug Wordell, nutrition director at Spokane Public Schools, said, “We should still be able to qualify the schools” for assistance using other measurements of poverty. He said 80 percent of families at the three schools who are using the free and reduced meal programs are also recipients of state and federal services, so the district will send out a special form asking for basic data so the district can maintain its funding.