Metro Nashville Public Schools will be leveraging the federal ESSER funds to ensure that school lunches are free across the district this year. Budgeted at $7.5 million per year for each of the next two school years (2022-23 and 2023-24), these funds will close the gap created by the end of federal waivers that allowed all students to receive a no-cost lunch. Breakfast was previously and will remain free at all schools.
“I firmly believe that the ability to pay should never be a factor or consideration for a student who wants and needs a nutritious meal,” said Dr. Adrienne Battle. “It is not only the moral and right thing to do to provide all students with a free meal, it will also benefit their academic and social-emotional growth throughout the school day.”
During the 2021-22 school year, lunch was provided to all students at no cost thanks to USDA waivers that expanded eligibility for the free lunch program. Congress did not re-authorize funding to continue this program, which moves school districts to the system in place prior to the pandemic where some schools qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which covers the cost of lunch meals for all students who attend those schools. Eligibility is based on Direct Certification, which means that enough families at those schools receive state or federal benefits that the entire school qualifies for no-cost lunch.
Thirty-one MNPS schools currently do not qualify for the CEP program, which means that economically disadvantaged families could apply for the Free and Reduced-Price Lunch (FRPL) program if they qualify, or else they would pay for lunches. Breakfast will remain free at all schools.
“We will still be asking families that may be eligible for free and reduced-price lunch to apply for this program, as it will help to reduce the funding required out of ESSER that can be later used for other purposes,” said Battle.