Caroline Curry, 2, eats grapes from the NEISD's Healthy Kids Cafe. Credit: Stephanie Marquez / San Antonio Report

North East and Edgewood Independent School Districts will continue to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students for the upcoming school year, the districts announced this week.

Both school districts served free breakfast and lunch to students during the 2020-21 school year as part of a pandemic-related change to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s requirements for serving free meals. The USDA announced in April that it would continue to allow school districts to apply for waivers so they could keep serving students free meals for the 2021-22 school year.

Sharon Glosson, NEISD executive director of school nutrition, said the district renewed the waiver through USDA for the upcoming school year, but she is unsure if the federal government would maintain the relaxed eligibility requirements beyond 2022.

“There’s no permanency to this,” she said. “There is some interest at the federal level in expanding the idea of free meals for all students, but there is a price tag to that. This year will help provide a better basis of what that price tag would be.”

The federal government also will be able to see whether free meals encourage more students to eat at school, Glosson said. With this year’s data, legislators can examine the impact of a potential universal free school meal program.

Edgewood ISD also will offer free breakfast and lunch to students, eliminating the need for individual families to complete applications to receive free or reduced-price meals, according to a press release.

Glosson said the ability to serve free meals to all students serves many purposes, including reducing the burden on families and administrators to collect individual free or reduced-price meal applications. Additionally, it alleviates concerns and the stigma for families and students who may not be able to afford school meals, one of the few resources students have to pay for at school.

“We know that a lot of families have had changes in their income due to job loss or other changes with their employment status,” she said.

Students will be able to move through lunch lines more quickly and maintain social distancing because cafeteria workers won’t have to stop and check their free or reduced-price meal eligibility or collect lunch money, Glosson said.

About half of NEISD campuses qualified for free meals before the pandemic through another USDA program because most students at those campuses qualified for various types of government aid, such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Some districts, like San Antonio ISD, provide free meals at all campuses because they all meet those requirements.

School districts that apply for and receive the USDA waiver will be fully reimbursed for each meal they serve to students, Glosson said. Each school district must apply for the waiver.

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.