Baltimore County schools offering free meals for students who previously received discounts


Baltimore County schools offering free meals for students who previously received discounts

Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County public school students who previously received discounted breakfasts and lunches will get meals free beginning this fall.

The Baltimore County Cares For Kids program, announced Thursday, comes after advocates urged interim superintendent Verletta White to expand a pilot program that provides universal free meals to some Baltimore County schools.

In July, groups including the NAACP Maryland State Conference, the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County and PTA members asked Baltimore County Schools to expand the Community Eligibility Provision to provide free meals for about 9,500 students in 19 Baltimore County schools. But school officials worried the provision would cost the county federal funding for low-income students and override some of the benefits they receive.

Baltimore County Cares for Kids extends free meals to low-income students across all public schools in the county, whereas the Community Eligibility Provision would feed all students at select schools.

Last year, 6,961 students in the county had access to discounted meals, according to the school system. Under the new program, those students would not have to pay for meals; the school system will cover the cost for their discounted meal prices — 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch.

Families must meet certain income requirements to qualify for benefits through the Baltimore County Cares For Kids program. Students in families of four with an annual income of $46,435 or less would be eligible, for example, or families of five making less than $54,427 per year.

Advocacy groups continue to advocate for the expansion of the universal free meals pilot program.

“We are dedicated to making sure no child goes hungry,” said Jayne Lee, Baltimore County PTA Council president, in an email.

Mychael Dickerson, chief of staff for Baltimore County Public Schools, said the school system reviewed the range of meal programs available for low-income students as it created the new program. He said school officials took advocates’ concerns into account.

“Their input also played into the need for us too look into this more systemically,” he said.

Barbara Dezmon, education chair for the NAACP Maryland State Conference, said the Baltimore County Cares for Kids program was a step in the right direction.

“We still urge Baltimore County Public Schools’ administration to examine past practices and investigate possibilities of programs, including expansion of [Community Eligibility Provision], that address food and nutritional needs of students facing poverty,” Dezmon wrote in an email.

The program will cost $486,000 for the 2018-2019 school year, and the school system’s Food and Nutrition Services Enterprise Fund will cover the expense.

The Maryland Cares for Kids Act, which Gov. Larry Hogan signed in May, will begin funding the program by fiscal 2023.

Students who qualify for meal benefits through the Baltimore County Cares for Kids program also can take advantage of other benefits, such as free school supplies, fee waivers for college testing and discounted rates for field trips and internet service and computers. Those benefits previously have been available to students who have qualified for free and reduced-price meals.

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