NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — This upcoming school year, all students at Newport News Public Schools will now have access to free breakfast and lunch.
The school system shared during Tuesday night’s school board meeting that all 45 of its schools will be a part of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) school lunch program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The service allows school districts in low-income areas to serve free meals to all students, rather than having a tiered system where some students pay, with others using reduced cost and free lunch options.
Newport News Public School’s Executive Director of Nutrition and Wellness Cathy Alexander says several years ago they started adding schools into the free lunch program.
As of last year, only six schools were left to be added. Now, when kids go to school on Sept. 3 they will all be a part.
Before this change, lunch for middle and high school students was $2.55 and $2.45 for elementary school students in Newport News.
“There’s no stigma. It’s everybody eats, nobody pays. It’s just really how it should be,” said Alexander.
To qualify, school systems must have at least 40 percent of their student population qualify for free lunches. In the seven cities, Hampton (41%), Norfolk (49%) and Portsmouth (51%) all qualify for the CEP.
Hampton and Portsmouth Public Schools both currently have 14 schools that participate, while Norfolk has 29.
The following schools in Hampton participate:
- Aberdeen Elementary (2015-16)
- Andrews PreK-8 School (2015-16)
- Bassette Elementary (2015-16)
- Booker Elementary (2017-18)
- Bryan Elementary (2015-16)
- Cary Elementary (2015-16)
- Downtown Hampton Childhood Development Center (2017-18)
- Lindsay Middle (2015-16)
- Machen Elementary (2015-16)
- Moton Early Childhood Center (2017-18)
- Smith Elementary (2016-17)
- Syms Middle (2015-16)
- Tarrant Middle (2017-18)
- Tyler Elementary (2015-16)
Norfolk Public School officials say they had eight schools in the 2014-2015 school year, 23 schools in 2015-2016, 30 schools in 2016-2019 and 29 schools in 2019-2020 (Poplar Halls, which is now closed, was a CEP school).
In a statement to 10 On Your Side they said, “Although NPS could offer the provision in all schools for all students to have free meals, NPS continues to evaluate the feasibility of expanding the provision.”
Officials with Portsmouth Public Schools say in total, they’ve been involved with the program for three years.
10 On Your Side spoke with Newport News resident Bryan Kearse, who has two children in the public school system.
He told 10 On Your Side when he saw the news about the free lunches, he was happy because it takes stress off of a lot of parents.
“I think it’s awesome. It gives them a security everyday in their minds. Some kids go to school everyday hungry and the only sufficient meals they do get is from school, so I think the things Newport News is doing is a very wonderful thing,” said Kearse.
Alexander says even though they’re now free, the food served will look the same as in past years because they have to meet the same health requirements.
She says this change also means the thousands of dollars in student lunch debt that added up from the previous school year is erased.
“We’re not trying to chase that down. It’s a win-win for everybody,” Alexander stated.
The USDA says the program helps avoid the stigma that can be tied to having to enroll in reduced or free lunch programs, and avoids the collection of applications and tracking of charged lunch accounts.
The provision was established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and became available in Virginia starting in the 2014-2015 school year.