Free lunches continue at Kennewick school districts in Pasco

Students in Tri-Cities and around the country received free meals as part of a larger federal response to the economic impacts of COVID.

Students in Tri-Cities and around the country received free meals as part of a larger federal response to the economic impacts of COVID.

For two academic years, students in Tri-Cities and around the country received free meals as part of a larger federal response to the economic impacts of COVID.

But that program ended last June and returned most school districts to pre-pandemic meal funding models.

As Tri-City students return to the classroom, two school districts – Kennewick and Pasco – will continue to provide meals to all students for free thanks to the Federal Community Eligibility Program.

Richland School District does not currently meet poverty metrics to provide meals per student – but the majority of its schools do.

Eight elementary schools, three of its middle schools, an alternative high school and the Early Learning Center will continue to provide free meals to its students this school year.

This does not include two high schools in the area, where nearly a third of students attend.

“We have poor students in every school, and at different levels,” said Ty Beaver, Richland’s director of communications.

Here’s how many students are considered low-income in each district, based on an October 2021 census reported by the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instructions:

Students who attend class at a school that does not offer free meals can still place an individual order for a free and reduced lunch. Families with a financial burden or who meet a certain income level may also be eligible.

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Washington State School Principal Chris Rykdale plans to ask the legislature to fund free school lunches for all K-12 students starting in the fall of 2023. Herald File

Beaver said students who are homeless or in the foster care system may also be eligible.

Last week, state Superintendent Chris Rykdale unveiled a statewide proposal to fund free school lunches for all K-12 students starting in the fall of 2023.

The program will cost about $86 million per academic year to cover 1.1 million students in Washington, but it must be approved by the state legislature.

Nearly half of all Washington State students are already eligible for either free or reduced-price meals.

Beaver said Ryckdale’s proposal would be a big step and help level the playing field for many Richland students.

Each year, he said, more families are struggling to pay for school supplies or lunches.

Richland wants to work to remove any barriers to student access to an education.

“Being able to fill your stomach and not have to worry about paying for breakfast or lunch is one of those things,” Beaver said.

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Profile photo of Eric Rosen

Eric Roseanne is a civil accountability reporter who joined the Tri-City Herald in February 2022. He previously worked for the Lewis County Daily Chronicle covering education, county government, and the legislature. Graduated from Central Washington University in 2018.

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