By Chris Higgins and Samantha Hernandez, Des Moines Register
Every Des Moines Public Schools student can receive free meals starting next school year regardless of what school they attend.
The district announced Wednesday that every school will offer free meals to students during the 2022-23 school year. The free meals will be covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision program, which covers districts with higher numbers of students from lower-income families.
More than 75% of students in the Des Moines school district qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The statewide average is 40.68% of students.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture temporarily relaxed rules that tied who received free lunch to family income and neighborhood poverty levels. Those relaxed rules are set to end June 30.
Currently, there are two bills pending at the federal level that, if signed into law, would extend the USDA’s relaxed rules for at least another school year.
“We knew that the pandemic benefits were ending and there was always a hope Congress would do something, but I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket,” said Amanda Miller, food and nutrition director.
The Des Moines school district started offering free meals at 13 schools in the 2013-14 school year, followed by 25 more schools the next year. No-cost meals will now be available at all 60 schools.
The Des Moines school district appears to be the only one moving toward feeding all students for free in the metro area. Earlier this month, Indianola, Ankeny, Waukee, West Des Moines and Johnston school districts told the Register they would not offer universal free meals next year. The reasons ranged from the move being cost-prohibitive to districts not having enough eligible students.
Across the state, school officials have been preparing families for the end of no cost meals and meal price increases due to supply chain issues and inflation. Families can still apply for the free and reduced meal program.
“This is not a time to raise prices on school meals,” said Associate Superintendent Matthew Smith. “We need to ensure every student has access to a nutritious breakfast and lunch every school day. It’s vital to their ability to learn and succeed in school and out in the community.”
The free meals in every building will begin on Aug. 24. Under federal guidelines, the program does not include students enrolled in the virtual campus.
Samantha Hernandez covers education for the Register. Reach her at (515) 851-0982 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @svhernandez or Facebook at facebook.com/svhernandezreporter.
Chris Higgins covers the eastern suburbs for the Register. Reach him at [email protected] or 515-423-5146 and follow him on Twitter @chris_higgins_.