There is no such thing as a free lunch, the adage goes, but Taos Municipal School students may not have to pay for their meals during the coming academic year if enough families in the district qualify for free or reduced cost lunches.
The challenge, according to administrators, is ensuring enough parents complete and return applications for the nutrition program, which were available as of July 15.
If every family submitted the multi-family application for free and reduced price meals, officials said, the district might be able to determine whether it can provide free meals to every student regardless of their eligibility.
The district qualified for the initiative known as Provision II from 2000 to 2012 but was not eligible for the program last year. According to the applications submitted at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, 60 percent of students at Taos High School qualified for free or reduced cost lunches. Not every household submitted an application, student nutrition director Mary Ann McCann said, indicating some youths who may have been eligible did not participate.
“We did not get the applications,” student nutrition director Mary Ann McCann told The Taos News, adding that the district would be able to determine whether they could resume offering free meals during the upcoming school year if every family submitted their application.
Administrators could use the paperwork to calculate whether the state’s funding for free and reduced priced meals would be sufficient to slash prices for all students.
The state will reimburse schools $2.88 for each meal provided to youths who qualify for free lunches, $2.44 for students qualifying for reduced price lunches and 47 cents for students who pay full price.
At those rates, Taos Municipal School students who are eligible for reduced cost lunches will be charged 40 cents. High school students will be charged $2.50 for their midday meal while middle school students will pay $2.25 and elementary students will be charged $2. Breakfast will cost one dollar less than lunch for students paying full price. Students who qualify for reduced price breakfasts will be charged 30 cents at all campuses.
Provision II funding would reduce all meal prices to zero for every student, McCann said.
Promotional materials being distributed to families tout that households with one student enrolled in the district could save more than $1,800 during the school year if free meals were to resume.
“It also has an impact on a lot of federal grants,” McCann said.
All federal initiatives in addition to many state programs, student loans and local grants use information gathered from the multi-family application for free and reduced price meals. If every household submitted an application, McCann said, Taos Municipal Schools could benefit from additional federal funding for at-risk students as well as technology upgrades and efforts to combat childhood obesity.