Superintendent Press Release October 20, 2023
Dear Cedar Bluffs Families,
It’s a sound investment in student achievement to ensure that Nebraska’s students aren’t going hungry, and a recent change in federal rules could allow Cedar Bluffs Public School to offer free breakfast and lunch for all students. In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture lowered the threshold for schools to provide free meals to all students and be reimbursed by the federal government for associated costs. Under the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), student eligibility is determined through federal benefits programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), eliminating the need for schools to collect individual applications.
Qualification under the Community Eligibility Provision was lowered to include schools where 25% or more of students are certified for free school meals without submitting an application. Previously, schools qualified if at least 40% of their students were pre-certified. Cedar Bluffs sits at 32.84% and thus would qualify under the new provisions. Last school year, at least one elementary, middle, or high school in 26 Nebraska school districts enrolled under the Community Eligibility Provision. Based on data from the Nebraska Department of Education, qualification could expand to include approximately 530 schools in more than 140 of Nebraska’s school districts under the rule change.
In determining participation, qualifying schools must consider a number of factors including weighing reimbursement against costs in determining if they can afford to sign up for the program. The benefits to students, however, are clear. Access to free school meals is linked to improvement in attendance and to increased test scores. Nutritious school meals also improve health outcomes for students, contributing to preventing childhood obesity. So, although qualified, Cedar Bluffs Public School still needs to analyze whether the program will be financially viable. To determine this the State will analyze our percentage of CEP which is 32.84% multiplied by 1.6 (1 is for the free meal and .6 is for the reduced meals) giving us 52.54%. Under the CEP program, the Federal government will reimburse our school at the 2023 free lunch meal price of $3.85 per meal (students) times 52.54%. And then the remaining students 47.46% are reimbursed at the “paid rate” of 40 cents per meal. This process is done for breakfast, lunch, and our snack programs as well an analysis of participation versus costs associated with staffing, supplies, food, and service will help us determine if the program is viable for Cedar Bluffs Public School. Furthermore, once qualified at whatever level, you are stuck there for the eternity of the program. So that percentage of 52.54% free reimbursement can never change, even though our population and percentage of free and reduced students may.
During the federal COVID-19 public health emergency, Congress temporarily made meals free for all students. That assistance has now ended, but eight states – California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Vermont – now provide universal free meals through varied funding mechanisms, including federal reimbursement. Two bills introduced during the 2023 legislative sessions – LB 99 and LB 627 – proposed to add free meals to all students in Nebraska, where 1 in 8 children is food insecure. While neither advanced from committee, universal school meals may be back on the agenda for the next legislative session as the CEP rule change reduces the cost and enhances the opportunity for every student to achieve academic success. Wildcat Pride!