JANESVILLE, Wis. - Parents with students in Beloit and select schools in Janesville will have one less expense to worry about when it comes to back-to-school shopping.
The national Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act helps schools provide free meals for students throughout the school year.
"We are feeding children year-round. We are taking the initiative to make sure they have the ability to learn, have the nutrition so they can go to class," said Jim Degan, Janesville School District's manager of school nutrition.
Every student in the district of Beloit will receive free meals this school year. In Janesville, Degan said five out of 20 schools have qualified for the program.
"It really isn't costing the government more money for reimbursements, they are just redirecting how they are allowing for those reimbursements," he said.
Districts will receive federal reimbursements to cover the cost they would have made from selling meals.
For every 19 out of 20 students, Janesville's school district receives $3.06 per lunch and $1.93 per breakfast. The district would receive only 36 cents for the 20th lunch.
As they considered how many students they have that qualify for universal meals, district officials said they anticipate they will receive the same or more revenue this year through being enrolled in the federal program, compared to what they received from the same amount of meals served last year.
In order for schools to qualify for universal free lunches, at least 40 percent of their students must be receiving free or reduced-price lunches.
Students at Jefferson, Madison, Jackson and Wilson elementary schools, along with Rock River Charter school, will all receive free meals.
Sixty percent or more of their students are categorized as living in low-income households. The program is the help school officials said students need.
"Being able to address food and security that is within a community and have students know that they can come to school, know that they will be able to eat, not have to worry about that. That's one less thing they have to worry about, and they can concentrate on studies," Degan said.
Meals include protein, grains, fruits and vegetables. Degan said the program not only provides students with the energy boost they need but also helps to erase socioeconomic boundaries within the schools.
"We are able to eliminate the stigma that goes with free and reduced students. It levels the playing field so all children know they will have quality nutrition while in school," he said.
Schools have the option of participating in the program for four years at a time. Degan said the district in Janesville will continue with the program with the hope more schools will become eligible in the coming years.