High school students in Polk County Schools will see their lunch prices go up next year, but there are many elementary schools that will find the entire student body will get their lunches and breakfasts free, School Nutrition Director Susan Ehrhart told the Polk County School Board on Tuesday.
Ehrhart said high school lunches for students who do not qualify for free or reduced price lunches will be charged $2.60, a hike of about 30 cents over this year’s costs. Students who qualify for reduced price lunches will pay the same 40 cents they were charged this year. The school board learned of the change last week, but won’t make the hike official until its June 10 meeting.
Ehrhart says the change is to to cover the cost of larger portions than those served to elementary and middle school students.
“Because of the larger portions and increased number of components for grades nine through 12, separate and higher meal prices need to be established for high schools,” she explained.
Adults eating the cafeteria meals also will see an increase of their lunch prices, up to $3.10 from last year’s $3 charge, Ehrhart added.
Meanwhile, Polk County will be increasing the number of schools in which the entire student body qualifies for free breakfast and lunch meals. Based on the federal Community Eligibility Program, in which entire schools qualify for free meals, the board will designate 77 elementary, middle and specialty schools eligible, up from the 44 so designated this year.
Ehrhart said the program is based on data where a high percentage of the community either receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) or Medicaid assistance. She explained that at least 40 percent of the school population must qualify for the free meal program.
The exception to the rule, she continued, is Fort Meade Middle Senior High School. If the district qualifies too many schools under the CAP, it begins to lose reimbursement funds, she added.
Students at FMMSHS will, of course, still be eligible to apply individually for free and reduced price lunches, school officials noted, but that it was just below the threshold for the Community Eligibility Program.
Prices for breakfasts, for those who don’t qualify for the reduced costs will stay at $1 per meal.
Ehrhart said that each year, the district adjusts prices for school meals to show its pricing is moving toward the reimbursed rate received from state and federal sources. The county presently receives $3.10 for each lunch served to those who receive their meals free and it receives 36 cents for each meal that students purchase.
Nearly 70 percent of students in the county’s 166 schools qualify for the reduced rate or free meals, the director said.
Among the schools eligible for the total population free meals program are: Lewis Anna Woodbury Elementary, Gibbons Street Elementary School, Frostproof Elementary School, Gause Academy, Alturas Elementary School, Traviss Career Center, Floral Avenue Elementary School, the Achievement Academy and the Jean O’Dell Learning Center. Also eligible is the on-site school at the Florida Sheriff’s Ranch Youth Villa.