Five Janesville schools to give free meals to students

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Nick Crow
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

JANESVILLE — All students at five Janesville public schools will receive free breakfast and lunch this year as part of a federal reimbursement program.

The meals will be provided because of the district's participation in the National School Lunch Program Community Eligibility Provision. The five schools participating are Jackson, Jefferson, Madison and Wilson elementary schools and Rock River Charter School.

The goal is to provide meals to schools in low income areas, instead of collecting individual applications for free and reduced price meals, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Districts qualify if at least 40 percent of students received free lunches the year before.

Jim Degan, school nutrition manager for the district, said the four Janesville schools were chosen based on number of homeless, low-income and foster care students.

According to figures from the district, each school on the list had at least 60 percent of its students living in low-income homes as of the 2013-14 school year.

Percentages of students in low income homes at each school offering free meals are:

-- Jefferson Elementary: 60 percent

-- Madison Elementary: 62 percent

-- Rock River Charter School: 70 percent

-- Jackson Elementary: 77 percent

-- Wilson Elementary: 90 percent

Degan said the move is part of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. The district will receive federal reimbursements to cover what the schools would have made from selling breakfast and lunch.

Students will receive one breakfast and one lunch at no charge.

"There is a huge benefit in that it will eliminate a stigma for students getting free and reduced lunch because those kids will no longer be identified," Degan said.

He said better nutrition helps students learn.

"I don't think you can have one without the other," Degan said.

Degan said the program has been piloted in several states, and Janesville officials believe the reimbursement will increase revenue for the district.

"We have more paid students than a lot of the inner city schools who have piloted this, so we have room to grow this," Degan said. "The only additional cost will be food product cost. If we increase our numbers, we should see an increase in positive cash flow by growing the program."

The district will receive four years of reimbursements for the five schools. He said the district then can decide whether to add more schools or get out of the program.

"In the long term we will be looking at all K-5 buildings being involved in this, but we need more data before we can make decisions like that," Degan said.

No action is required of parents. Children at the five schools will be able to participate in the meal programs without having to pay a fee or submit an application.

Kim Peerenboom, principal at Wilson, said her school already qualified for the free breakfast program, but free lunch will help families who may be receiving only discounted lunches.

"Obviously, when the kids are properly fed, they have the ability to sustain focus and have the energy to get through the day," Peerenboom said.

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