Every student who attends a school run by the Atlanta school district is eligible to receive free breakfast and lunch, no matter their family income, the district says.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that 77 Atlanta schools, including charter schools that use the district's food service, are providing free meals to all students.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides federal reimbursements for the meals under a program Congress authorized in 2010.
Last school year, the Atlanta district received about $23.2 million in reimbursements for its meal program, and officials expect to receive enough in reimbursements this year to cover the cost of the growing program.
A full-price lunch last year cost $2.25 for elementary students and $2.50 for middle and high schoolers.
To qualify for the federal program, school districts must show that at least 40% of students receive food stamp benefits, homeless services, or are enrolled in pre-kindergarten Head Start programs. The district says 49 percent of Atlanta students met those requirements.
Students need to have their basic needs met in order to learn, says Marilyn Hughes, executive director of the district’s nutrition department.Families at the participating schools no longer need to fill out applications to qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The district is also working out a way for parents to donate the money they would have spent on their child’s meals to support other APS programs that help needy students.
In 2013, Clayton County Public Schools became the first metro Atlanta district to offer no-cost meals to all students. Since then, more students are eating school meals. About 37% of Clayton students ate school breakfast before the program, compared with 47% now. School lunch participation increased from 82.3% to 85%.
In addition to saving families money, the program has cut expenses for the district because it no longer has to print and process applications for free and reduced-price meals.