SYLACAUGA, Ala. – On Thursday, Sept. 1, all students of Sylacauga City Schools (SCS) will be able to eat breakfast and lunch at no charge thanks to the district’s eligibility for a pilot of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Provision 2 program.
The SCS system has maintained meal charges of $1.50 for breakfast and $2.45 for lunch for the last five years.
Kelley Wassermann, Director of Child Nutrition Programs with the SCS, said that earlier in the summer when she was calculating the prices for student meals, she recommended to the school board to leave prices where they were.
“Families were paying so much more for basic necessities, like gas and groceries,” she explained. “I was concerned that if we raised prices, we would lose participation and defeat the purpose of trying to serve nutritional meals.”
For the last two school years, all public school students across the United States have received meals at no charge. This was due to a series of USDA waivers that maintained the policy of meals at no charge throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the latest waiver expired on June 30 of this year.
“Before COVID disrupted everything two and half years ago, Sylacauga averaged about 57 percent free and reduced,” explained Wassermann. “The last few years have been difficult for everyone.”
According to Wassermann, that free and reduced percentage has increased by 13 up to a staggering 70 percent. This change allowed for the school system to be eligible for the pilot program of the USDA Provision 2.
“This year we received great response in families returning the Free and Reduced Meals Application,” Wassermann said. “This response rate, plus the number of students approved by direct certification, is enough to qualify the entire school district for Provision 2 eligibility.”
Within this provision, the SCS system’s Child Nutrition Program is able to absorb the cost for all students that are on either reduced or paid lunches.
“After the first semester, a financial analysis will be conducted to determine whether or not we can afford to continue in Provision 2,” Wassermann noted. “We can continue the program only for as long as our fund balance is strong enough to carry this extra cost.”
Wasserman pointed out that the school system is only piloting the provisional program. After this semester, a reevaluation will take place to see if the SCS system still qualifies.
“The last few years have been difficult for everyone. I am glad we were able to qualify for Provision 2 and give our families some relief from the burden of paying for meals,” Wassermann said.