The Washougal School District is close — but not quite close enough — to qualifying for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision, part of the National School Lunch Program that permits eligible districts and schools to provide meal service to all students at no charge regardless of economic status.
To qualify for the program, a district, school or group of schools from the same district must have at least 40 percent of students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
A little more than 39 percent of Washougal students qualified for free and reduced-price meals during the 2021-22 school year, said Les Brown, the district’s director of communications and technology.
“Universal support for (free meals) would be helpful,” Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton said during a Nov. 8 school board workshop. “There is a mechanism in the state of Washington that allows a district to be fully compensated to provide meals for breakfast and lunch. Our district (doesn’t qualify), but we’re very close based on the percentage. Because we’re not quite there, we have children (in need) who do not qualify for free or reduced meals, so I would advocate strongly for that support, as well.”
Board members said they believe chef-inspired, scratch-made meals help students feel welcome and nurtured in schools, and they would like to “ensure that no student is hungry during the school day by providing universal free and nutritious school meals.”
After reviewing a set of priorities from the Washington State School Directors Association, Washougal school board members approved their final selections — special education and student transportation, in addition to meal funding — for their 2023 legislative agenda during a Nov. 22 meeting.
Regarding special education, district leaders will ask legislators to fully invest in mandatory services for eligible students; expand access to inclusionary practices; remove the “artificial” cap that limits state special education funding to 13.5 percent of a school district’s student population, regardless of how many students qualify; and recognize that costs vary for every district based on the “uniqueness of each student and community.”
“While our district has made significant progress in closing the opportunity gap for students served in these programs, these additional services should be funded by the state, not (by) local tax dollars,” Templeton said. “The Washougal School District spends nearly $2 million beyond what the state provides in order to provide the services these students need to succeed.”
The board is also asking legislators to cover all costs related to student transportation. The board stated that recent legislative changes, higher fuel costs, and increased costs associated with attracting and retaining staff have “pushed our costs far beyond what the state allocates to get students to and from school safely.”
The board plans to continue its advocacy by participating in the “Day on the Hill” conference in February with state legislators in Olympia.