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School Lunch Program Opt Outs Sound Similar Theme

From private high schools in Missouri to public districts in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Colorado and Wyoming, school districts are exploring the pros and cons of withdrawing from the National School Lunch Program.

Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau, MO, and and Saxony Lutheran High School in Jackson, MO, are two of the latest schools to opt out of the Federal School Lunch Program, as reported by the Southeast Missourian. Both schools have made agreements with local restaurants to provide meals to students and both say they have seen an increase in the number of students and faculty served. Both also continue to provide lunch to lower-income students, covering the cost themselves.

The schools are just the latest to announce such moves over the last few months. Others include the Chester County (PA) Schools, which announced back in June that it would withdraw its 1,300 high school students from the program, noting that while it would lose $38,000 in federal money, it would under new guidelines implemented for this school year also see a revenue decrease from $2.32 to $1.73 per high school students.

Nearby Manheim Central High School District in Lancaster, PA, withdrew its high school around the same time, foregoing some $195,000 in federal reimbursements but worried about a potential loss of up to $150,000 in a la carte sales under the new regs. The school had already been seeing a participation decrease in the previous two years, when the first changes under the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act were implemented.

The two districts were joined by the South Fayette school district, located on the other side of the state near Pittsburgh, where of the high school's 759 students, only 85 most recently qualified for free/reduced price lunches.

The Fort Thomas (KY) ISD in July announced it would forego more than $200,000 in annual reimbursements but were concerned about a drop of some 166 meals served a day in the lunchroom, plus increasing waste. The district says it will re-evaluate at the end of this school year.

Douglas County (CO) Public Schools withdrew its high schools from the federal program a couple months ago because of concerns that the loss of its high-participation Subway franchise plus other necessary changes to its a la carte offerings (which is over 90% of sales) would cripple in the entire meal program. Like many districts taking this action, the move applies only to the high schools.

Joining the trend last month was the Sheridan County (WY) School District, which withdrew both its high and middle schools from NSLP, losing some $40,000 in federal funds in the process. The district says it expects 15% increase in sales but only a 7% increase in costs following the move because of greater freedom to serve meals more appealing to students, including using more produce and beef from local sources.

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