Pocahontas Board of Ed discusses free meals program
Marlinton, WV – During Tuesday evening’s Pocahontas County Board of Education meeting, board president Kenneth Vance discussed a pilot program in West Virginia that provides free breakfast and lunch for all students.
Under the current school lunch program, students either pay full price, a reduced price or receive free meals, based on family income. Schools are reimbursed for each student, based on how much the student pays.
Last school year, eight West Virginia counties participated in the Universal Feeding Pilot Program. Volunteer schools agreed to increase breakfast and lunch participation, eliminate processed foods, increase school-made meals, offer more choices to students, and offer breakfast either after first period, in the classroom or grab-and-go.
The purpose of the program is to decrease childhood hunger, improve student health and improve student performance in school. State education officials estimated that schools likely will be able to recover much of the cost associated with the program through federal subsidies.
Board treasurer Alice Irvine says the board should study the pilot program’s financial results.
“So, you’re getting three levels of reimbursement,” she said. “What they’re saying is – if you give everybody a free meal, then they will give you a higher rate for every student. Everybody’s reimbursed up to 100-percent of the population. You can clump two schools together to get a certain number of students to make this ratio work. The question is – can you break even if you do this? It’s a pilot program, this past year, and I think it’s going to take some data from this year to see if the counties that participated were able to break even.”
Irvine says it would be difficult to eliminate the program, once it was started.
“If you started the program – what if it didn’t work?” she said. “It would be hard to go back and reinstate pricing for meals.”
Vance says he doubts that dozens of schools would be participating if they were losing money.
“If there were that many schools that wanted to participate – they’re not all going in the hole,” he said.
In April, the Charleston Gazette reported that Mingo County received $186,000 in extra federal dollars during the pilot program’s first four months.
Board member Emery Grimes says the free meal program could be great for Pocahontas County.
“If we can get it in Pocahontas County – I think it’s a great thing – if we can make it work,” he said.
The free meals program was not an agenda item and the board took no action on the program.
Board member Janet McNeel raised concerns about educational software used at Pocahontas County High School. The Carnegie Learning Cognitive Tutor math software requires students to do homework assignments on the Internet. McNeel says many students might not have a computer at home.
“The question that I have is and one of the problems is because the homework assignments are online, rather than out of a textbook,” she said. “So, how many kids do we have that do not have access to a computer at home? I think that is worth looking at.”
The U.S. Department of Education reported in August 2010 that Cognitve Tutor software has no discernible effect in improving high school math achievement. State education officials currently are reviewing the software’s effectiveness in West Virginia.