The Arkansas Department of Education, Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, Child Nutrition Unit (CNU) encourages quick action by districts and schools to ensure accurate reflections of the need of their student populations by promoting the completion of school meal applications.
When families and schools partner to complete Free and Reduced Price Meal Applications, both benefit from:
- Free and Reduced Price Meals to students
- Access to ACT testing at no cost to the family
- Access to concurrent credit opportunities at no cost to the family
- Access to discounted rate for internet services and other supports
- Specific educational program funding
Districts should strongly encourage households to complete a meal application.
Allowable practices in the collection of applications can include, but are not limited to:
- Sharing with parents and guardians the benefits for both families and schools
- Providing community outreach to encourage households to submit applications for meal benefits
- Providing families with a school contact who will provide additional information and answer questions
- Remind families that participating in school meals or completing an application does not affect the student’s or family’s SNAP benefits
- Reassuring families that schools maintain the confidentiality of families that complete meal applications
- Providing the community information regarding free and reduced price meals by posting applications in parent centers, post offices, grocery stores, unemployment offices, county health units, and other community buildings
- Utilizing technology (call-outs, emails, apps, websites, etc.) to remind families that meal applications must be renewed at the beginning of each school year and that meal benefits are available to all students at any time during the school year.
A best practice for assuring return of meal applications is to make additional contact with households that have not completed an application for school year 2019-20, especially when that household qualified for benefits in school year 2018-19, before the allowed carryover from the previous year’s eligibility expires for the new school year.
Districts might consider distributing the “Public Release,” which details the availability of the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program and provides information related to program eligibility, in the following locations:
- School and district websites and social media
- Local newspaper
- Local cable TV company
- Local TV and radio stations
- Local businesses / employers / factories
- Local health department offices
- Local Department of Motor Vehicles
- Local Department of Human Services office
- Local WIC office
- Local churches
- Public libraries
- Local hospitals and clinics
- Local housing developments
- Electric service providers
The Public Release can be found at: https://dese.ade.arkansas.gov/Offices/child-nutrition-unit/forms
Schools must be aware that federal policies govern the free and reduced price application process. The Eligibility Manual for School Meals Determining and Verifying Eligibility, dated July 18, 2017, is the most recent USDA Guidance available. Link to USDA guidance:
Schools should continue to rely on their district determining official(s) to accurately determine the eligibility of students for free and reduced price meals. These individuals are trained on the appropriate methods and requirements for approval and denial of all applications returned. The determining official will communicate with households if additional information or clarifications are needed prior to making the determination of the benefit.
Districts are reminded that eligibility status is confidential information and should not be shared except as outlined in the Eligibility Manual for School Meals.
For further information, contact the District’s Area Specialist at (501) 324-9502.