GALVESTON

A federal program will pick up the tab for all Galveston Independent School District student breakfasts and lunches in the next school year, a move that could mean fewer hungry children denied meals and less burdensome paperwork for families.

The district this week announced it had been accepted into the U.S. Department of Agriculture Community Eligibility Provision program, which will allow the district to provide free meals to enrolled students no matter their families’ incomes, officials said.

The federal program allows high poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to enrolled students without asking for household applications.

The district, which had not always been eligible for the program, welcomed the news. But it meant the number of students in low-income households had increased to meet the eligibility.

The program also takes into consideration homeless students and foster students, said Jennifer Douglas, director of Child Nutrition for the district. While Douglas didn’t immediately know what changed to increase the number of students from low-income homes, she speculated it might have to do with Hurricane Harvey, which struck in August 2017.

Harvey didn’t badly damage homes on the island, but the storm caused flooding at thousands of mainland homes, displacing students across the county, some who are attending the Galveston school district.

The federal program will reimburse the school district about $3 million for the meals, officials said.

Under previous low-income National School Breakfast and Lunch programs, 73 percent of students in the Galveston district qualified for free and reduced lunch, Douglas said.

The program begins in August and continues through June 2019. Once a district has community eligibility, it’s eligible for up to four years, officials said.

Students will be able to get basic meals for free, but would have to pay for extras, such as chips, ice cream and other snacks, officials said.

The district had a $4.8 million food program budget for 2017, Douglas said.

This isn’t the first time a school district in Galveston County has participated in the Department of Agriculture’s program. Texas City Independent School District also participates in the program. And more than 3,900 schools participate in it nationwide, according to the School Nutrition Association.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture calculates the cost of lunches each year using what it calls a meal equity spreadsheet, including a mandatory 2 percent increase plus the consumer price index increase for the current year.

It costs the district $1.75 to provide breakfast and up to $3 for lunch for each student, Douglas said. The district last year charged students $1.10 for breakfast and $2.50 for lunch, Douglas said.

The school will continue to track student meals as it always has, Douglas said.

“Students will come to the line and make their selections,” she said. “They will still have to enter their student ID number, but there will be no charge to the student. We still have to have an accountability system.”

In the past, a few of the schools in the district were eligible, but this is the first year the entire district could apply, Douglas said.

“A couple of years ago, we could have done it for a couple of schools in the district,” she said. “That’s why now is good because the opportunity is for the entire district.”

The district will maintain its food quality standards under the program, Douglas said.

“We have several guidelines to monitor sodium and low-fat foods,” she said. “We taste test with students to bring in high-quality products for our students. The food quality is not going to change.”

The program will make it easier for students and parents, district spokeswoman Dyann Polzin said.

“Everyone will qualify for free lunch,” she said. “People won’t have to fill out forms, but we will still have to work with families because we need to be able to validate those who do qualify for different federal programs.”

It’s difficult for students to learn when they’re hungry, Trustee Vice President Jeff Temple said. When everyone is eligible for a free lunch, it could erase the stigma attached to it.

“Throughout the nation, we have food shaming, where kids know who is getting free lunches and who is not,” he said. “More than that, this will ensure our kids are fed and not hungry. We will be a pretty good example for the rest of the nation.”

Connor Behrens: 409-683-5241; connor.behrens@galvnews.com.

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Before coming to work for The Daily News as a staff reporter, Connor worked for us as a freelance correspondent throughout 2017. He has written for other publications such as the Washington Post.

(14) comments

Bailey Jones

I think this is a terrific idea. I'd like to see it everywhere, regardless of income.

Bruce Niebuhr

Research is emerging support free lunches (and breakfasts) for all: 1) poor kids are more likely to get the free meals (reducing the stigma), 2) the increased overall cost is not significant and 3) Non-poor kids are more likely to get healthy meals, too. Use your search engine to find the research.

Rusty Schroeder

This makes sense, housing is so expensive on the Island that families cannot afford to feed their children. Who's fault is that ?

David Schuler

These comments are so sad. No one makes anyone live anywhere; it's a choice. If you choose to live where you can't afford to feed your kids, that's a bad choice. But these days the answer is never, "you are responsible for your children", it's always More Federal Funds. So would there be joy or angst if the economic situation improved and GISD no longer qualified for this program? Actually that question is immaterial - once GISD's budget is addicted to free lunch programs, they can never go away.

Rusty Schroeder

My comment was tongue in cheek David. Pertains to the articles lately on affordable housing on the Island and the complaints that it is non-existent.

Randy Chapman

Once upon a time, you had kids when you could afford them. Nowadays, it's everyone else's responsibility to pay for your kids with money extorted from real taxpayers. And to boot, they get the earned (ludicrous description) income tax credit, that is just welfare disguised.

David Schuler

Yes, i belated realized that, but my comment still stands. Knowing that GISD students are So Poor as to be eligible for free breakfast and lunch will most certainly attract many new Middle Class families to Mayor Jim Manor out by the airport.
But what really irked me was Dr. Jeff''s statement about Setting an Example for the Nation. If we had worked with Washington to create the program and were the lead recipient, yes, that would be Setting an Example. If we had combined a federal program with local initiatives to feed hungry children (good!) and as a result created something new and successful, then yes, that too would have been Setting an Example. But from what i can tell, all GISD did was fill out a form to apply for an existing freebee. Nowhere in my vocabulary is that 'setting an example for the nation'. But maybe they should receive a Participation Award!

Rusty Schroeder

I was shocked to see Texas City ISD is a participant in this program. I understand circumstances for students needing aid, but to cover the whole school base is hard to justify.

Randy Chapman

Well, Texas City is a santuary city.

George Croix

A LOT has changed since the days I took a single slice of bread with mayo or butter spread thin on it to school for lunch, because that's what we could afford. We were poor.
It was a powerful incentive to stop being poor when the chance came, and never be so again.
No problem with helping those who really need help, that's part of good citizenship, but it eventually becomes an exercise in futility when you start building tents to cover everybody when not all are getting rained on....

Paul Hyatt

GISD, TCISD, HISD are all on the free lunch program. Something tells me that most if not ALL of the county is on it. Schools celebrate it, but as per many on this forum I do not think that this is the way our area should be going. That Federal money is coming out of our pocket one way or the other....

Doug Sivyer

I fully support feeding the hungry children whose parents cannot afford to feed them for what ever reason. Many hard working families can barley afford the most basic necessities anymore. Everything is so expensive now a days. Our corrupt government chooses to give big tax cuts to wealthy corporations and the wealthy fat cats rather than give a helping hand up to those most needy. This is a positive step in the right direction. Feed the hungry I say!

Carlos Ponce

I got a nice tax cut too. It's just not "fat cat wealthy corporations" who received them. And the free meal program has been in effect for decades. But it used to be applied on a child by child basis based on need, not an entire school district.

Randy Chapman

There is already a program in place to provide food for them. It's called SNAP or the Lone Star card. What has happened in the last generation is that folks have come to depend on being fed by the government, and they no longer view being able to support yourself and your family as a necessity. Further, the welfare program, by whatever name you want to call it, was provided as supplemental nutrition. But, due to progressives, the interpretation has changed. It has changed to the government must provide all of their food, and there is no incentive to better one's lot in life and examine the life choices that they've made.

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