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End of free school meals may put added pressure on families


Schools have been able to feed more students during the pandemic, thanks to a federal waiver providing free meals. Now, that's coming to an end, and that has some school officials concerned.

Kathleen Kane is the director of school nutrition at Valparaiso Community Schools. "It's been nice because participation has soared. We're feeding 80 percent of the students on a daily basis, so it'll be a big change. Breakfast jumped by about 40 percent," Kane told the school board last week.

In Valpo, the school district will go back to charging what it did before the pandemic, although middle school students will see a slight decrease.

To get free or reduced lunch, families once again have to qualify based on income. But Kane worries that federal eligibility guidelines aren't keeping up with inflation.

"Sadly, what we're seeing is people are making a bigger hourly wage. It's not huge, but it may be just enough to put them over the edge and not qualify," she said.

Kane expects to see more families on the bubble, struggling to pay the full price. She says as many as one in three students typically qualifies for free or reduced lunch.

The Valparaiso School Board formally approved meal prices for the upcoming school year last week.