Wichita won’t take part in free meals program

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The Wichita school district won’t participate this year in a new federal program that aims to reduce the stigma of applying for low-cost meals by offering free meals to all students regardless of family income.

Officials in the Wichita district say the district doesn’t plan to apply for the Community Eligibility Provision, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that’s also designed to combat child hunger by doing away with the application process that may confuse or dissuade some families. At participating schools, all children would be able to eat breakfast and lunch at no cost.

Districts qualify for the program if at least one school has 40 percent or more students who qualify for free meals without applying.

Cheryl Johnson, child nutrition and wellness director for the Kansas Department of Education, said a handful of districts, including Topeka, have so far said they plan to participate.

Johnson said Topeka schools will implement the program at 13 high-poverty schools this fall. Hutchinson and the Kickapoo Nation also are close to submitting applications.

Wichita school district spokeswoman Susan Arensman said the Wichita district is evaluating the program and may apply next year.

“A final decision on future participation has not yet been made,” she said.

School officials in Wichita and elsewhere said a tight deadline, logistical concerns and unanswered questions about cost likely would prevent them from applying.

A Wichita elementary school student who qualifies for reduced-price lunch would save about $120 a year on school meals under the program. A student paying full price would save about $570 a year.

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