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McKeesport Area students may 'have their cake and eat it too'

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 1:41 a.m.

McKeesport Area School District students may have all of their breakfasts and lunches paid for through a federal program.

Kelly Patterson, regional director of the district's food service management company Nutrition Inc., introduced the possibility at a workshop meeting on Wednesday.

“There would be no more charging of meals when Johnny forgot his lunch money at home,” Patterson said. “Everybody would eat for free. It's a ‘have your cake and eat it too' program at the moment.”

Community Eligibility Provision is a four-year program through the federal Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act.

The 2014-2015 school year is the first one in which Pennsylvania school districts are eligible. The state Department of Education is handling the application process, which is projected to begin in May.

“That's got some great potential,” assistant superintendent Harry Bauman said.

McKeesport Area's breakfasts now cost less than $1, and lunches are less than $2 district-wide.

The current nutrition program for the upcoming school year includes a 5 cent per meal increase.

Patterson said districts qualify for the program if at least 40 percent of students are deemed to be directly certified. Those are students whose families do not submit paper applications for free or reduced meals. Instead, their eligibility is determined directly by the state because of reasons including the receipt of food stamps, medical assistance, being foster students or being deemed homeless, Patterson said.

McKeesport Area has approximately 3,800 students, and about 61 percent are directly certified.

The district could gain approximately $116,000 in reimbursements through the Community Eligibility Provision, compared to its current system with paper applications and some students paying full price for meals.

“(The district) would claim around 99 percent at a free rate, and about 1 percent at a paid rate, although everyone would eat for no charge,” Patterson said.

Bauman said the district needs to research whether the program affects Title 1 and E-Rate programs. Title 1 provides financial assistance to local schools and educational agencies with high numbers of children from low-income families. E-Rate provides discounted telecommunication services.

It does not affect the district's dinner program, which provides free meals to students after school through the federal Child and Adult Care Food program. More information is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or mdivittorio@tribweb.com.

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