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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

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In Kids & Family

Kids at Manitoba School (shown with School Resource Officer Kai Anderson), and all other MPS schools, will have access to free meals this year. (PHOTO: Milwaukee Public Schools)

MPS will offer free meals to all students


All MPS students will now have access to free breakfast and lunch at school.

Over the summer, Milwaukee Public Schools was accepted into a program, open to schools that take part in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, that allows it to offer free meals to all students enrolled in the district.

"This is a great win for families in Milwaukee," said Tatiana Joseph, who represents the near-South Side sixth district on the Milwaukee Board of School Directors. "Now all children will be able to have a meal regardless the their financial status.

"This is huge because we have families, that although working full-time and do not qualify for free or reduced lunch, still struggle to feed their children. Now they can ensure a meal for their children without worrying about the financial impact."

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) was authorized by the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and its expansion this year was pushed by First Lady Michelle Obama.

According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service website, the "CEP provides an alternative approach for offering school meals to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools in low income areas, instead of collecting individual applications for free and reduced price meals.

Four schools associated with the district -- Next Door Charter and partnership schools Guadalupe Head Start, St. Charles Youth And Family Services -- Behavior Reassignment and St. Charles Youth And Family Services -- Intensive Day Treatment -- do not qualify for the program, according to the Department of Public Instruction.

"(The schools) do not qualify because they don't offer both breakfast and lunch, which is a requirement," said Karrie Isaacson, RDN, CD, who is assistant director of DPI's School Nutrition Team. "I am currently working with MPS to see if we can make these schools work."

That means students at all MPS schools will be offered free breakfast and lunch meals, allowing all 80,000-plus to arrive in class fed and ready to learn, without the stigma some might attach to those who qualify for free or reduced meals."The CEP allows schools that predominantly serve low-income children to offer free, nutritious school meals to all students through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs."

"Community eligibility makes sense because children in our care at meal time should be fed," said Sherrie Tussler, Hunger Task Force executive director. "Research shows that students participating in school meals have better performance and attendance."

NoKidHungry.com recently posted a PDF list of "four things you need to know" about CEP.

The CEP is projected to help close the gap between students who are eligible for free meals and those who actually use the service.

Participation is also expected to greatly simplify cash collection at individual schools. It will also relieve the district of the work of distributing, collecting and processing tens of thousands of meal eligibility applications.

That's because CEP doesn't draw on those applications for its data, instead relying on information from a variety of other programs, including Temporary Assistance Program for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

To be considered for CEP, at least 40 percent of district enrollment must qualify for free and reduced lunch. In 2011, nearly 83 percent of MPS students were eligible.

Just because the meals are free, doesn't mean all children will take them.

"Obviously all MPS kids need a healthy diet in order to achieve academically -- not to mention their physical growth," said Alex Runner, who is the parent of two children at Milwaukee French Immersion School, in an e-mail.

"As an MPS parent, though, we enjoy packing lunch for our sons and we'll probably continue to do so. I imagine there are many MPS families that want to do so."

MPS posts its menus here.

The district is encouraging families to set up an account at MyPaymentsPlus.com to cover additional milk, entrees or a la carte meal items for children who might request these.

Adults will still be required to pay for meals ($3.75 for lunch, $2 for breakfast) and students who want extra milk will pay 40 cents for it. Students may also request a second entree at lunch at the cost of $3.75 plus 40 cents for milk.

MPS is also asking school staff to pre-pay for meals using the same system. Adults will not be allowed to carry a negative balance.


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