Update: Universal School Meals in Groton

Note: The following post was adapted from a summary authored by Elizabeth Wolff, educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension. Many thanks to Kelley Neville, Groton School Food Service Manager for her willingness to share these encouraging developments!

Starting with school year 2018-2019, Groton Central School District is offering universal free breakfast and lunch to all students. This has been made possible by changes made to the qualifications for free/reduced-price meals per the NYS Education Department. Previously qualification for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a.k.a. “Food Stamps) was the level; now NYS uses student/family qualification for SNAP and or Medicaid to determine eligibility. It is also possible to interface with the state system to show student proof of eligibility, thru the NYS Student Identification System (NYSSIS) an upload tool to NYSSIS makes it much easier to share information.

For a school to receive a per-meal reimbursement from NYS, it needs 40% or greater, combined SNAP and Medicaid qualifying students from within the district. Groton has 41% of families receiving SNAP and or Medicaid, so Groton gets 65% reimbursement from NYS (if a school district has 65% of students qualifying, then it gets 100% reimbursement from NYS).

Groton plans to make up the shortfall through sale of lunches and changes to food quality – which are so far, driving increased sales. For example, featuring local foods, a salad bar in the high school and a “Chef’s Corner,” with food tastings happening weekly in the High School; nutrition education paired with healthy offerings. There is still no preliminary accounting of what the shortfall will be, but year-over-year comparisons are very encouraging.

Student participation in school breakfast was around 4%, now it is at 50%. This is vital for fiscal sustainability because NYS reimburses at a higher rate for breakfast than lunch. Previously, Groton High Schools served approximately 225 lunches a day. Now, ~350 kids are eating lunch each day which translates to a 75-80% participation rate (total enrollment ~475). Staff have also started eating lunch at school, with between 10-20 staff participating. Sales of a la carte items have increased. At Groton Elementary, participation in lunch is 2-3 times that of last year.

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