Another school added to free lunch program. Is poverty growing in Muscogee County?

One more Columbus school is offering free meals to every student, regardless of family income, a sign that poverty is increasing and spreading northward in the city.

In the past four years, Muscogee County School District’s participation in the federal school lunch program has increased 58%.

The new 2019-20 school year started Thursday, and now 41 schools are participating in the the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program that allows all students in qualified schools to eat free breakfast and lunch, the district announced in a news release.

Midland Middle School in northeast Columbus is the newest school to join the CEP, although the total number of schools in the program remains 41 because Early College Academy closed and merged with Jordan Vocational High School.

No school dropped off the list from last year to this year. That means only 12 of MCSD’s 53 schools have students from families with incomes high enough to not qualify for the school-wide program. But students at those schools can still qualify individually for free or reduced-price meals.

Eligibility for individual students is based on household income and size. For example, this year, families of four must have a household income of less than $47,638 for reduce-price meals or a household income of less than $33,475 for free meals.

The CEP was authorized by Congress as a part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and became available nationwide in 2014.

MCSD had 26 schools in the program in 2015-16 and 38 in 2016-17. Now with 41 schools in the program, MCSD’s participation has increased by 58% in the past four years.

The poverty rate in Columbus, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau report, has increased from 19% in 2009 to 21.7% in 2017. The 2019 federal poverty definition for a family of four is a household income of less than $25,750.

To qualify for CEP, a school, group of schools or a school district, must have at least 40% of its students meet one of the following criteria as of April 1:

  • Be a recipient of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
  • Or be a homeless, runaway, migrant or foster child;
  • Or be enrolled in a Head Start Program.

The following schools will provide free lunch and breakfast to all students this school year:

Elementary schools

  • Allen
  • Blanchard
  • Brewer
  • Davis
  • Dawson
  • Dimon
  • Dorothy Height
  • Downtown
  • Forrest Road
  • Fox
  • Gentian
  • Georgetown
  • Hannan
  • Johnson
  • Key
  • Lonnie Jackson
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Midland
  • Reese Road
  • Rigdon Road
  • River Road
  • South Columbus
  • St. Marys Road
  • Waddell
  • Wesley Heights
  • Wynnton

Middle schools

  • Arnold
  • Baker
  • Double Churches
  • East Columbus
  • Eddy
  • Fort
  • Midland
  • Richards
  • Rothschild

High schools

  • Carver
  • Hardaway
  • Jordan
  • Kendrick
  • Shaw
  • Spencer
Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.