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October 21, 2019

School Notes: Rep. Trone fights for free school meals

Credit: The Frederick News-Post, Katryna Perera

Receiving free and reduced-price meals in Frederick County Public Schools could become more challenging if a recent proposal by the Trump administration regarding toughening access to food stamps goes through.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly 3 million people could lose access to food stamps under the proposed rule, which in turn would mean almost 1 million children would no longer be eligible for “free and reduced meals” (FARM) in schools.

Children who live in households who receive food stamps are automatically eligible for free breakfast and lunch in school. If a school has more than 40 percent of enrolled students who meet this standard, the school receives a Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). This grants every student free breakfast and lunch regardless of whether they qualify.

Three FCPS schools have a CEP and more than 10,000 students qualified for FARM in the 2018-2019 school year, said Robert Kelly, senior manager of food and nutrition services at FCPS.

U.S. Rep. David Trone (D.-Md.) sits on the Education and Labor Committee and participated in an oversight hearing last week regarding how the proposed cuts would affect school meals.

“The old saying used to be no child left behind. Well, if those students go hungry, they won’t be left behind, but we can’t have kids in school without a good meal … and expect them to be successful in school. It’s crazy,” Trone said.

If schools lose their CEP, students must apply for FARM individually. Politicians who oppose the rule change, such as Trone, say this will lead families and students to fall through the cracks and increase the stigma against students who qualify for FARM.

Broad-based eligibility programs such as CEP help low-income working families get the help they need, according to advocates.

“This program really targets folks that are coming from more struggling backgrounds and it gives them a shot to be at school in their best moments,” Trone said. “Well-fed and ready to do the work in school that will let them succeed in life.”

Opponents, however, say such expanded eligibility presents a loophole for higher-income families to get public assistance.

After the oversight hearing last week, the USDA has reopened the public comment period for 14 days so the public can weigh in on the proposed rule change for a second time. Almost 130,000 public comments had been filed as of Monday.

Trone said that while he is happy with this development, “we’re not going to stop fighting.”

“I’m a huge believer … that education is the way to fix the disparity incomes throughout America and we’ve got to give everybody that opportunity,” Trone said.

FCC partners with Wilson CollegeFrederick Community College announced an agreement Monday with Wilson College to guarantee qualified FCC students admission to Wilson bachelor’s degree programs and allow them to transfer credits earned with a grade of C or better.

FCC students will have the Wilson admission fee waived and students who transfer at least 60 credits will be granted full junior status at Wilson.

In addition, qualified FCC students will receive academic advising by both colleges to ensure they are taking course that can be applied to a bachelor’s degree.

Students will also receive monetary benefits such as scholarships.

“We prioritize ensuring our students have many opportunities to continue their educational or career goals after completing their studies at FCC,” FCC President Elizabeth Burmaster said in a statement. “This is the newest of many agreements we have with … that ease the transition for our students, saving them time and money.”

Elissa Heil, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at Wilson College, said in a statement she was happy about the partnership.

“It expands Wilson’s footprint and provides FCC students a seamless path to a Wilson bachelor’s degree,” Heil said. “Students will benefit professionally from having the tools they need to achieve even greater success.”