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D150 should know that there’s no such thing as a free lunch (UPDATED)

Here’s an informational sheet I received from District 150 on the first day of school:

A recent change in federal law allows Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee school districts with a high poverty population to offer free meals to all students in the approved school. To be eligible and receive reimbursements from the government, a school district must have 40% or more families participating in Federal poverty programs for each school that is approved for the Community Eligibility Option (CEO). CEO is a pilot program for the three states listed above, and once a school is approved to participate, their participation is guaranteed by the Government for at least four years.

That’s right. Because fewer than half of families in a particular school need free or reduced price school lunches, the federal government has developed a program that gives everyone in the school free breakfast and lunch. In District 150, this means 22 out of 28 schools are participating — every school except Richwoods, Lindbergh, Washington Gifted, Kellar, Northmoor, and Charter Oak. So now, the first 15 minutes of the day at Whittier is spent serving kids free breakfast.

Obviously, I have no problem with a program that provides free and reduced price lunches to children in need. But under this program, up to 60% of families who are not at all in need will get free meals. Why? According to a USDA press release, “By streamlining the eligibility and enrollment process, no additional application is required to provide much need nutrition assistance to children in need.” Here’s how another press release expresses it:

“Community eligibility is a great way for schools to cut through burdensome red tape for themselves and low-income families so that children in high-poverty areas have access to the nutrition they need to learn and thrive,” said Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. “Schools will benefit from reduced paperwork, parents will not have to fill out duplicative forms, and children in need will get better access to healthy school meals.”

In other words, those in need no longer have to fill out an application form (which the government considers “burdensome red tape”), and the school doesn’t have to process them. But who’s paying for all this convenience? Ultimately, the school district:

Under this option, schools utilize preexisting data to determine the amount of reimbursement they can claim from USDA. The determination is primarily based on the percentage of households in that community who are already participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. Schools that utilize this option agree to provide meals to all children free of charge, and USDA reimburses them for the appropriate amount based on this preexisting data. Under this option, schools will still be responsible for paying the remaining difference between the Federal reimbursement amount and the total cost to operate the program. [emphasis added]

So, the federal government is only reimbursing school districts for those 40% or more students who are really in need. The up to 60% of other children that take advantage of the free breakfasts and lunches who are not in need will be paid for by the school district. This seems a high price to pay for eliminating an application form. On WCBU news this morning, it was reported that District 150 is facing a $2 million budget deficit this year.

UPDATE: I asked District 150 Comptroller/Treasurer David Kinney about the costs of this program to the district, and he had this to say:

Yes, we pay the difference [between the Federal reimbursement amount and the total cost to operate the program]. However, what is important is understanding what that “difference” is. With all formulas worked out, the feds will reimburse us 99.2% of the meals served. We are actually hopeful that we will be ahead with that formula for a couple of reasons. First we will be able to save a small amount in typical administrative costs. Second, we will NOT be in a situation with those eligible schools that we will be chasing down kids or families that haven’t paid for their lunches – which is the situation we have had in the past. What has often happened – and happens in many school districts, kids that are not “free” or “reduced” may spend their lunch money on something else and then charge their lunches – or parents didn’t have the money to give. When these charges accumulate, many school districts enact practices to try to collect those funds. For District 150, all those head aches will actually now go away. At a max of 8/10ths of one percent cost to implement this program, we project we will actually come out ahead.

We also think that with the ease of this program, we will serve more lunches and breakfasts to our kids, making for a better day for them.

He brings up another D150 policy that I find bizarre. One day my wife and I discovered that we owed D150 for milk our daughter had purchased on credit. We never gave her permission to buy milk, nor to have any kind of “credit” account. (We send a juice box with her sack lunch, and would have given her milk money if she had asked for it — she never did.) But apparently at District 150, kids can put stuff on their parents’ tab without their parents’ knowledge. Then one day the parents get a surprise bill in the mail for it. It’s a strange economic system indeed that resolves collection problems by ceasing to charge for goods.

115 comments to D150 should know that there’s no such thing as a free lunch (UPDATED)

  • Sharon Crews

    What is WBL?

  • Sharon Crews

    notthere, if you happen to be a current Manual teacher, then I do not have any desire to put down either the teachers or the students. I am quite sure that no matter what the program, etc., the teachers themselves gave it nothing but their best and the students benefitted. I just think that NCLB did great harm to Manual, in particular, and to inner schools, in general. I just wish that administrators could say to teachers that they should do their best, care about the kids, and let the NCLB chips fall where they may. We would all have been better off and wouldn’t be sniping at each other.

  • notthere

    Sharon, I by no means believe or want to imply that John’s Hopkins is the reason these students are attending colege or any other good thing that happens at Manual. I too believe that J.H. is a waste of money for our district! I just think that as a district, 150 does have good things happening in many of the schools, not just MHS. We need to see and sound off about those as well as the negative. NCLB has not done much good for any school. Has it? It doesn’t really matter who the admin is if the teachers continue to do what is right for the students. That is the reason that we all go into the profession, isn’t it? I think it is like a sport. If you enjoy the sport enough, it doesn’t matter who the coach is. They all come and go, but our love of the game will always be there! Just sayin’. And, no, I am not a teacher in District 150. 🙂

  • Sharon Crews

    Notthere, I know my message gets garbled now and then. My criticisms are always for NCLB and the administrators who have been so willing to blame teachers for poor scores, etc. Actually, the negativity that has come from NCLB has done little to encourage students either. I know that many who are not in the field of education (and listen to all the NCLB hype and negativity) would not believe this–but I believe that District 150 is much worse off now than it would have been if NCLB had never come into being.

  • Sharon Crews

    Notthere–I still want to know what WBL is. Thanks.

  • Adkinsdutro

    There’s absolutely no comparison between a school with quality administrators and a school with poor quality administrators. A school with a jackass at the helm will never (fully) prosper — no matter how talented the teachers.

  • Jon

    There’s absolutely no comparison between a school with quality teachers and a school with poor quality teachers. A school with jackasses in the trenches will never (fully) prosper – no matter how talented the administrators.

    Hmm. Maybe, just maybe, teachers and administrators, as well as students, parents, taxpayers, etc. are all part of a larger community interdependent upon each other. Or….you could just stick with the US vs THEM mentality…

  • Adkins-Dutro


  • Sharon Crews

    Jon, when a person leaves a city is that person an “us” or a “them”? 🙂 Of course, Adkins-Dutro is right and he isn’t complaining because he is enjoying that interdependence of which you speak. He definitely speaks from experience.

  • skeptical1

    What about a district with a self-serving jackass at the helm????? Can a district flourish if the jackass in the Ivory tower that was moved in from NC reaps the benefits of “bonus” money and a comfortable work setting while students suffer in the heat and don’t have materials needed for their success??? It is about the children or is it???

  • Jon

    As usual, Sharon, it probably depends upon one’s perspective. I would venture to guess such a person would always be a “them” to you – even more so now.

  • Sharon Crews

    Just messing with you, Jon. You enjoy being the “them” to me. 🙂

  • not2late

    WBL is Work Based Learning

  • Sharon Crews

    I thought that might be what WBL stood for. Notthwew had said that only 2 at Manual did WBL in 2006 but 14 this year. There is good reason for that. We would have loved to have continued the programs that put kids to work, but MHS wasn’t given the funding for such programs and teachers. Because of restructuring MHS received all kinds of money that wasn’t available to the old regime. Given all the helps received by the new regime, it would be interesting in hindsight to think about what the old regime could have accomplished with the same resources. Manual’s restructuring was done so much differently than the restructuring at PHS, where teachers have had considerable input into the process.

  • cttsp5

    It would be quite interesting to see the difference between all the students that are listed as going to college at graduation time and the actual amount of students that truly go to college and stay after one month. I don’t think John Hopkins is having any affect on how many students stay in college and the total that don’t wouldn’t be any different than before the program began.