At the July 1 school board meeting, the board voted unanimously to partake of the Community Eligibility Program. According to the Louisiana Department of Education the Community Eligibility Provision operates on a four-year cycle. At CEP-participating sites, which would be all Morehouse Parish School system schools, students receive two meals a day — breakfast and lunch — free of charge.
Participation in this program helps assure that a larger percentage of schoolchildren are receiving nutritious meals which can aide in learning, decrease behavioral problems and increase exposure to new foods.
With the program, parents no longer need to fill out applications for free or reduced meals. Every student automatically qualifies.
"It's going to allow every student in the district to have free lunch because we are a high-poverty area," Paula Weeks, child nutrition program director, said. "We won't be collecting money for reduced. We won't be having applications for free/reduced. All students will be on an equal playing field. They all get a free, nutritious lunch."
Weeks hopes that the program will increase lunch participation and noted that her department will receive a net gain of $1.15 per qualifying meal compared to what the department currently receives from a combination of parental and federal funding per lunch.
In information provided by Weeks, additional benefits of the CEP are noted as: the financial burden of families is eased, there are no issues with filling out applications, lunch lines move more quickly, there is reduced stigma for students and staff costs are reduced.
This program will start for the 2014 to 2015 school year. However, the school system retains the right to leave the program if it does not meet its needs or interferes with funding received from other sources.