Free federal food program continues for 22/23 school year


The federal government continued the CEP program, which guarantees free breakfast and lunch for students attending high poverty schools.

Dominic Centner, Reporter

The Oshkosh Area School District (OASD) can once again offer most of its students free breakfasts and lunches after the federal government continued its Community Eligibility Program (CEP) for the 2022-2023 school year.

Jacquelyn Kiffmeyer, the principal of Oshkosh North High School, could not stress enough how important CEP is to our schools. 

“I appreciate the CEP lunch program because I feel strongly that in order for students to do their very best they need to have their basic needs met,” Kiffmeyer says.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government put into place CEP, a free food service option for schools with a high percentage of students being in lower-income families to make sure shortages and lost wages did not prevent students from satisfying their primary need. Since many communities still face obstacles after the pandemic, CEP will continue in many districts.

The CEP was first introduced by The Health Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010. The provision was created to tackle the issue of high-poverty schools, and the qualification of free or reduced-price meals. To qualify for CEP, the community by the school has to be 60% or more at the poverty level. The only school district in Oshkosh that does not qualify for free lunch is Oshkosh West High School.

“Students should not have to be worried about being hungry during the school day. From my point of view, the CEP program should be offered to every student in every school,” Kiffmeyer says. 

The CEP makes it so that students don’t have to pay anything for breakfast or lunch, as long as they have a complete meal on their plate. The OASD website recognizes a full meal as “At least ½ cup of fruits or vegetables with the meal.” Milk-only meals and a la carte items are still available but are exempt from CEP.

In the past years, to qualify for free breakfast or lunch, students had to submit a Free and Reduced Meal Application. It is no longer needed if you attend a school that qualifies for the free breakfast/lunch program. However, the OASD still strongly encourages all families to complete the application, as they can still qualify for waived or reduced fees at school for such things as class requirements, field trips, and other regular charges. They can also qualify for reduced costs of technology access and Advanced Placement or college class costs.

The federal government reimburses schools the costs using a formula that calculates the percentage of students that would qualify for free meals, regardless of the CEP. The CEP also simplifies the counting process because lunches do not have to be tracked by the free, reduced-price and paid categories of meals.

It appears most students know about the free lunch as the school put posters up around school.

“They make it really well known which is really nice,” says sophomore Joscelyn Howe.

Not all students felt that the government should be able to require them to take certain food groups, but they accepted it based on it being free.

“I think it’s pretty fair, considering that they want kids to get the proper nutrients that should be accessible to them,” says sophomore Lillian Tom. 

Howe agreed. 

“I feel like it’s fair because then people can have a balanced meal. Some kids will go for just the main course and not take any fruits or vegetables.”

Regardless if they eat everything on their plate, no student needs to go to class hungry, making it more likely they can pay attention to the lessons.