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Cumberland County schools raise lunch prices for first time since 2017

Students who pay full price will see 50-cent increase; free meals remain


The price of lunch for some students in Cumberland County public schools will go up for the first time since 2017.

The 50-cent increase will take effect this fall for students who have previously paid full price for meals, according to a news release from the school system. Students who qualify for free meals will continue to eat at no cost.

The Board of Education approved the new price structure Tuesday night.

The district’s Child Nutrition Services asked for an increase of 50 cents for students who have paid full price at schools that don’t qualify as low-income schools based on guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The department’s Community Eligibility Provision “allows the nation's highest-poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications,” according to the news release.

About 73% of the district’s schools are CEP-qualified.

School officials cited substantial increases in the costs of food, supplies and labor.

The average cost of preparing a meal has increased by 73 cents since last year and is expected to continue going up, the school district said in the release.

“Certainly, it was a very difficult decision, and they didn’t take that lightly,” school district spokesman Lindsay Whitley said of the Board of Education. “When you look at the Child Nutrition program enterprise fund, they have to balance the budget for the rising costs. … This is something you're seeing not just in Cumberland but across the state.

"We didn't go up as much as we needed to, but we had to go up," Whitley added.

The price plan for the 2022-23 school year provides:

  • The continuation of free meals for students in all grades who qualify.
  • Reduced-price lunches for 40 cents for qualifying students.
  • A daily rate of $2.65 for students in non-CEP elementary schools who have previously paid full price.
  • A rate of $2.75 for middle and high school students in non-CEP schools who have paid full price.

Despite the increases, the school system said, the full-pay cost of lunch remains 25 cents to $1 lower than meal costs in comparable school districts statewide.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA offered multiple waivers that allowed school districts to provide free meals to all students, the district said. The last of these waivers will expire before the start of the new school year.

“Everyone was basically able to have free meals” since March 2020, according to Whitley. “Regardless of status, with the waiver, they were able to get free lunch. This is really now with prices (back) in place. We're increasing once again from where students last paid for meals.”

Most of the district’s students will return to school in August.

For more information about the Cumberland County Schools’ Child Nutrition Services and to find the free and reduced lunch application, go online to the Child Nutrition webpage.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Fayetteville, Cumberland County, schools, education, lunch