Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Free lunches no longer an option for most Lakewood Ranch students

Most East County schools will require parents to apply for free lunches based on need.

Toquya Jones and Margaret Laughlin, food service workers at Braden River High, prepare lunch for students. (File photo)
Toquya Jones and Margaret Laughlin, food service workers at Braden River High, prepare lunch for students. (File photo)
  • East County
  • Schools
  • Share

After two school years of all students receiving a free lunch at school if they so desired, students in the greater Lakewood Ranch-area will have to pay for lunch once again. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture made it possible for school nutrition programs to serve all students free lunch through waivers, but congress did not extend the waivers for the 2022-2023 school year. 

As a result, the School District of Manatee County will have to charge for lunch again. Breakfast will continue to be free for all students across the district. 

The School District of Manatee County has 25 sites, including traditional schools and charter schools, that qualify for the Community Eligibility Program, but none are in the Lakewood Ranch area.

Community Eligibility Program schools receive free breakfast and lunch every day without the need for free and reduced applications. 

Regina Thoma, the director of the district’s food and nutrition services, said all the schools that are Title I schools are Community Eligibility Program schools.  

“The USDA came out with the Community Eligibility Program several years ago because in that school community, there’s a very high percentage of families that would qualify,” Thoma said. “In order to reduce the administrative burden, they set a criteria. So if you know there’s a lot of students that receive (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits or (Temporary Assistance for Needy Family) benefits and are migrant or homeless, that school can qualify.”

“We want to make parents aware that if their students don’t attend one of the Community Eligibility Schools they will have to go back to applying for meal benefits again,” Thoma said. “After two years, people might have made the assumption that it’s going to continue to be free for all students, but that’s not the case.”

Students who receive SNAP, TANF, Medicaid or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservation benefits are automatically eligible to receive free lunch without the need for a meal benefit application.

Other students who need free or reduced lunch can submit an application, which will be available July 5. Only one household application needs to be completed per family. 

Thoma said applications should be submitted by the first day of school Aug. 10 so students will have free or reduced lunch once school begins, but applications can be submitted any time during the school year.

Students who are paying for lunch will see prices have increased by 25 cents to $2.75 per meal for elementary students and $3 for students in middle and high school.  

Thoma said the last time the district raised prices of lunch was in 2019. The district planned to raise prices again in 2021, but due to the pandemic, the district decided to postpone the raise in prices until 2022. 

“Inflation affects us like it does any consumer, and we are seeing, depending on whether it’s food or supplies, anywhere from a 14% to a 20% increase in costs,” Thoma said. 


Latest News