All parish students to eat free next school year

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All Webster Parish students will eat for free when they return to school in August.

In May, the Webster Parish School Board voted to provide free lunches to pre-K through sixth-grade students regardless of household income. On Monday, the board voted to expand free lunches for all grades.

“We have been in discussion about how some of the children will be affected,” Superintendent Johnny Rowland Jr. told the board. “It all has to do with the makeup with the school.”

Under the pre-K through sixth-grade only plan, some schools would be ineligible for the program, despite the school having elementary grades because of its Community Eligibility Provision eligibility.

“You’re excluding some and including others all in the same grade. You got sixth-graders in one end of the parish and sixth-graders on the other not included, but sixth-graders in the central area are included. Then, Doyline K through 12 won’t be included at all,” Finance Director Crevonne Odom said. “You’ve got to decide if you want to single out classes.”

The school district would not have had any costs by providing only pre-K through sixth-grade students free meals. The meals are funded through the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision, a federal program that subsidizes meals for schools and school districts in low-income areas.

By expanding the program district wide, it’s expected to cost the district anywhere from $67,000 to $100,000 out of the general fund, the same had the district only provided free lunches for elementary grades, Odom said.

“Essentially, our option is we can move to a parish-wide program for more-or-less the same money,” Board President Charles Strong asked.

That is what the state is telling us, Odom responded.

The board unanimously approved the change and will be able to review the program after one year and make changes if needed.

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