School Meal Program Update

NCSS Provides Update on 2022-2023 School Meal Program
Posted on 07/27/2022
Meal Program UpdateNewton County School System Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey has gone on record on multiple occasions stating she believes all children should receive breakfast and lunch meals at no charge. We know that children whose basic nutrition needs are met are more successful in school. Unfortunately, the federal government, which oversees the school nutrition program, no longer allows school systems to provide free meals for all students as we have done over the past two- and one-half years. As a result, the school system school nutrition team applied to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program, in an effort to provide free meals to as many students as permissible. Unfortunately, five of our schools do not meet the current eligibility criteria to provide free meals to all students; however, parents at these schools may individually apply for free or reduced meal benefits. As much as we want to provide this free service, it's important to note that no school system official, including the elected board members, have the authority to override or ignore federal guidelines. 

As background information, beginning in March 2020, the school system made free meals available to all children in Newton County who chose to participate. This program was made possible by waivers to meal service guidelines established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). During this time, parents did not have to complete applications to receive meals at no charge. When schools pivoted to an online learning model, meals were distributed at sites throughout the community, including school bus stops. As schools reopened, the school nutrition program staff continued to provide meals to students at community sites and in school cafeterias. The school system understood the community’s needs and worked hard to respond. Not every school district responded this way; however, our school system team believed it was work that needed to be done. Unfortunately, the federal waivers that provided this flexibility expired on June 30, 2022.

Despite the U.S. Congress not extending the waivers, ensuring children have access to meals and are ready to learn is essential to the school system’s work. Our school system applied to participate in the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision to continue providing meals at no charge to as many students as possible. CEP allows the school system to provide meals at no cost to students in schools located in low-income areas, as determined by the USDA. Seventeen schools were eligible to participate in the CEP based on the USDA criteria. All students in these schools will receive meals at no charge, and parents will not have to complete an application to receive the meals.

Based on eligibility requirements, five schools did not qualify to participate in the CEP. It is important to know that students who attend these schools may still be eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Parents must complete an application, which may be obtained at any cafeteria or online ( All parents at these five schools are encouraged to complete the application as the school system’s goal is to ensure that every family receives the support they need within the USDA guidelines. Families who need assistance completing the application or have questions should call the school nutrition department at (770) 788-3120.

The school system’s commitment to ensuring children have access to nutritious meals is further demonstrated by its summer feeding programs. This summer, the school nutrition team provided meals to children at six community sites. Additionally, meals were provided to students attending the numerous school-based summer programs offered by the school system. Finally, our school system has not increased student meal prices since 2019 regardless of significant increases in food costs.

While we wish the U.S. Congress had extended the waivers that allowed meals to be provided at no cost to all students, we are pleased that at least 70% of our students will receive this benefit through the CEP. It is also likely that at schools not eligible for the CEP, approximately 44% of students will qualify based on income for free or reduced-priced meals and continue to receive the support they need (based on the most recent free and reduced-priced meal data). School system staff will continue to work to ensure students have access to meals at schools and community sites at the lowest cost allowable by the USDA.

If you have concerns regarding Congress’s choice to end the waivers that allow for free meals for all students, we encourage you to contact your United States Senator and/or your U.S. House Representative.