Schools providing meals and school supplies at no cost this year

WINSTON COUNTY       -  During these uncertain economic times, children attending both Haleyville City and Winston County school systems will not have to worry about costs of school meals or supplies this upcoming school year.
Students will not have to pay for school breakfast or lunch, thanks to a new pilot

program known as Community Eligibility Provision, known more commonly  to educators as CEP.  This program is also being utilized by Marion County Schools, which includes Phillips Elementary and High schools, whose students will also have free meals this upcoming school year.
Also, all students in Winston County and Haleyville City Schools will not have to furnish their own school supplies. Although students are not required to bring supplies, they are welcome to bring certain supplies they may need, educators said.
Families, however, who wish to provide school supplies and prepare in other ways to go back to school are encouraged to take advantage of a big tax break this weekend.  The annual back-to-school tax-free holiday weekend Friday, July 21-Sunday, July 23, is when certain items are exempt from sales tax, allowing families to save money.
“With summer nearing its end, I know Alabama families are beginning to prepare for the quickly-approaching school year,” noted Governor Kay Ivey.
During the tax-free weekend,  families can get tax breaks on such school related supplies as pencils, calculators, binders, and other essential school supplies, according to a statement issued by the governor’s office.  They also get tax breaks on clothing, shoes, diapers and many other items.
Despite the tax-free weekend, local school systems are giving a further financial relief to families by providing their school related supplies, local educators said.
The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which has provided more than $122 billion to schools across the nation have helped local school systems free up other funding sources they would not normally have to spend on helping students, educators pointed out.
“What we have done is look at our overall budget and our overall ESSER money plus our local money, and being able to use ESSER money for other things that normally we would have to pay for locally, such as buildings, HVAC units and all those things,” noted Haleyville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Holly Sutherland.
Although ESSER funds were issued to help school systems get back to in-house learning after the COVID-19 pandemic, hard economic times combined with rising food, supply and fuel costs means educators are looking to help students with their financial needs.
“...We do have families who are struggling a little bit.  We know that when you go back to school, for all families, there is a need for different kinds of shoes, different kind of clothing than what you would wear all summer,” Sutherland stated.
“There is always an expense, so taking some of those school supplies off of their lists of what they have to purchase helps all families start the school year in a more positive way,” Sutherland pointed out.
Although some students may not normally qualify for free or reduced lunches, they can still struggle financially due to inflation, the superintendent said.
“There is often not enough relief for that middle class family who has several children in school and are paying several meals on top of other finances their family has,” Sutherland said.
“Anything we can do to reduce some of the burdens of our families is beneficial and impactful,” she added.  “We want to relieve the burden of  back to school”
Bart Shannon, administrative assistant for Winston County Schools, noted the school system is pleased to alleviate the financial burden of breakfast and lunch prices  on students across the county.
“The school supplies we are going to be providing are the same across the county,” Shannon stated. “To my knowledge, the school supplies have already been delivered and prepared.”
School supplies which will be provided across both school systems to students include scissors, spiral notebooks, journals, kindergarten writing tablets, pencils, pencil sharpeners, composition notebooks,  binders, pencil-carrying pouches, crayons, Crayola coloring pencils and glue sticks, according to a list posted on the Winston County Schools website and shared by Shannon.
“The benefit for kids is it starts to remove any barriers that exist, as far as barriers tied to financial hardships and things  of that nature,” said Shannon.
“It also equates everyone on the same playing field as far as what they are learning with,” Shannon pointed out.
Shannon said these measures will help out both students and teachers as a new school year begins.
“It will help families out financially,” Shannon continued. “It’s going to alleviate the burden of having to purchase some of those things, but it will also be helpful to our teachers because you know every child should have what they need to learn each day.”

Students to
receive free meals

Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, is a four-year pilot program providing school meals at no cost. It began around 2010 with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act then-president Barack Obama enacted.
The provision, however,  became more active around 2015-2016, in a big push to get free meals to students in certain school populations, explained Emma Anne Hallman, director of the Child Nutrition Program for HCS.
Although some schools began to participate in CEP around the 2015-2016 school year, those participations were on higher percentages of students who were receiving certain eligibility benefits.
At the time, HCS did not have a high percentage of families who received those types of benefits.
“Our families qualified on the basis of income,” Hallman explained.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama was selected to be involved in a Medicaid pilot program allowing families receiving Medicaid benefits to also qualify under direct certification title.
This, in turn, boosted percentages of students locally, allowing the school system to participate in CEP, Hallman further explained.
Under CEP, all students will receive free breakfasts and lunches without having to submit applications, as was done for the free and reduced meal program, Hallman stated.
“This is going to be a pilot year,” reminded Shannon, who is also director of the Winston County Schools Child Nutrition Program.
“We’re optimistic we will be able to continue this, but in reality, the participation of our students will help determine the success of that program,” Shannon pointed out.
Hallman stressed that student participation in the CEP would determine the program continuing at least four years.
The federal funding covering the costs of the program is the same, but the ways in which the funding is divided is based off an identified student percentage which, for HCS, is at 61.94 percent.   That number is calculated by dividing the total number of students who are certified for free meals without applying for them by the total number of students enrolled in a school system.
Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program must have had an ISP of 40 percent or greater by April 1.
“We have over 1,000 of our 1,600 students in our district being pulled in as directly certified. That means they are under Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps) or some other program like that,” Hallman explained.
The higher ISP percentage is allowing other students who do not meet these special requirements, an opportunity to also receive a free breakfast or lunch, Hallman stated.
The ISP percentage for Winston County Schools is 59.03, according to Shannon.
In the past, a typical family could pay as much as $1,400 a year in school meal prices, according to Hallman.
“That’s money that’s being able to go back into our families’ pockets, back into our local economy,” Hallman stressed.
“They are able to save money, and I think that is the ultimate goal, is we want to take care of all of our students,” she added.

Free meals only
for students

Both Haleyville City and Winston County School officials stressed that the free meals this school year are for students only.
Costs have been adjusted for faculty and visitors, for each school system as follows:
Breakfast for faculty and visitors: $3;  lunch for faculty/child visitor $4.50; lunch for adult visitor $5.  These prices are the same in both school systems.



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