Despite School Meal Program Stalling in Legislature, Oklahoma Officials Say Other Options Are Available

KOKH - August 10, 2023 6:47 am

Funding the state’s free school meal program remains a question mark heading into the school year, especially after a bill that would’ve helped more kids get free and reduced lunches didn’t pass.

Sen. Jessica Garvin (R-Duncan) says she’s confident House Bill 1376 will be discussed at the next legislative session in 2024.

HB1376 School Lunches by David Mark on Scribd

She wanted to clear up some confusion with about what this will mean for the upcoming school year.

“I think that there’s this misconception that because the bill didn’t pass, that school districts are not going to feed kids,” Sen. Garvin said. “That’s just not the truth.”

House Bill 1376 would have increased the income threshold for free and reduced lunches from 130% above the poverty level to 300 percent. It passed the House almost unanimously, but it didn’t make it through the Senate Education Committee.

“It was a matter of available funds,” Sen. Garvin said. “We dedicated so many dollars to public education. We just have to be able to make sure that we could afford to do everything we wanted to do.”

Sen. Garvin sponsored the bill. She says it not passing doesn’t do education leaders any favors.

“Unfortunately those school districts are responsible for kind of just eating that cost. They’re not getting any reimbursement for those kids who are kind of on the border between qualifying for free and reduced lunches, and not.”

But, Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy CEO Joe Dorman says there are still options out there to make free and reduced lunches possible.

“A lot of the schools will have local foundations where you can contribute towards the cost of meals of children who are in the poverty range,” Dorman said.

According to Dorman, a community eligibility provision program (CEP) also comes in handy. It allows a school district in a low income area to serve meals at no cost to all students without any household applications.

“There are dozens of school districts around the state of Oklahoma that qualify for the CEP that do not utilize it. We would encourage people to reach out to their local school board, the school superintendent and see if the school does qualify, if the community does qualify. That way, those kids who are in that poverty range will be able to receive those funds.”

Dorman says if families qualify for SoonerCare, they also will qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. Health coverage through SoonerCare is available for families and pregnant women with children ages 18 and younger. Visit this link to review income guidelines, coverage options and connect with a local, non-profit navigator to help sign your family up for health insurance. Families can also call 833-465-7526 for service provided at no charge.

 

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