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5 things: Free meal program costing schools money

This and more are the things you missed for the week of March 5.

Each Friday I compile a list that highlights five things you probably missed in the news that week and why you should care about them.

Here’s your list for the week of March 5:

1. Free meal program costing schools money

Part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was a provision called Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows districts to serve all students free meals, regardless of income status, if at least 40% of the school qualifies as free or reduced. CEP allows schools to serve those free meals without collecting free meal applications. Child nutrition professionals hail the program as an overwhelming success, but one district says there is a negative side—losing federal funding for Title 1.

Free meal applications are used in other ways outside school meals, including Title 1. Those applications help determine the amount of funding schools receive from the federal government. Baltimore Public Schools joined CEP and now the district says schools are losing Title 1 funding. But the schools that are losing funding are the ones with high rates of immigrants. To determine Title 1 funding under CEP, when free meal applications are no longer collected, the government uses alternative means to determine low-income rates for students, including SNAP. According to an article in The Baltimore Sun, schools with high amounts of immigrants are losing out on funding because immigrants are less likely to apply for those alternative methods of qualification like SNAP. Because of that, a school will look richer and loses Title 1 funding. In one instance, a school has lost $40,000 in Title 1 funding since joining CEP in 2015. While the district overall isn’t losing out on Title 1 funding, the amount is being allocated differently among the schools.

Read more: Free lunch program unintentionally cost some Baltimore schools thousands in federal funding

2. Bill would relax college meal plan mandate

Many colleges require certain students (often freshman) to purchase a meal plan. A bill passed by the Missouri House would relax that mandate for students who have a documented dietary restriction. Under the bill, which still needs to be passed by the Senate and then signed into law, students who have documented issues like food allergies, food sensitivities or medical dietary issues would be exempt from the meal plan mandate. It should be noted that a few years back students at Lesley University were given an agreement from the Department of Justice following a similar scenario. A group of students said they shouldn’t have to purchase the mandated meal plan because they said the university did not offer food options that met their dietary needs. Food allergies were listed as a disability in the settlement, and Lesley had to take steps to ensure that students with food allergies could safely eat on campus. 

Read more: House Bill Would Relax University Meal Plan Mandate

3. Dining hall closes due to staff shortages

Two years ago, we saw a huge issue with staff shortages in college dining programs. The biggest problem was that colleges were having trouble getting student workers to work in the dining halls. While the issue isn’t completely over, we’ve heard less of it in the past 18 months. But one dining hall at The College of Wooster was shut for the remainder of the academic year when dining services couldn’t get staffing to cover the location. The hall only served 10 percent of the college’s meals, so the dining director felt it was needed to close the location to alleviate staff pressure and overtime work. Medical leave, moving to higher paying jobs in the area and transferring to other campus department were reasons cited for the staffing shortage. 

Read more: Kittredge Hall closing due to staff shortages

4. District offers free meals to cops to increase presence

Following the recent school shootings, one district is taking a different approach to try to keep students safe—offering officers free meals. The district says it is trying to increase the presence of officers to help deter any crimes and also to allow them to become familiar with the school and layout. Breakfast and lunch will be offered for free.

Read more: Washington school district offers free food to officers to increase presence at schools

5. Robot manning grill at fast food restaurant

Robots are taking over the world. Well, maybe not, but they are taking over the burger station at a fast food restaurant in California. Flippy, as the robot is called, can grill 150 burgers an hour. In an environment where labor is a challenge, automation like this and others like Sally the salad maker could help alleviate the labor strain.

Read more: 'Flippy' The Fast Food Robot (Sort Of) Mans The Grill At Caliburger

Bonus: New USDA rules on FSD qualifications and subsidized meal applications announced

Contact Becky Schilling at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @bschilling_FM

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