- Associated Press - Saturday, August 16, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Nashville school officials say thousands of more students are taking free lunches after the first week of school.

Free lunches and breakfasts for all students, regardless of family income or grade, are new to Nashville this year after the district announced in June it would take part in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision program.

On the first day of school at Metro Nashville Public Schools, the district served 45,609 special brunch meals, up from 36,361 the year before - a collective 26 percent increase.

District spokesman Joe Bass told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1oZ0kgh ) the surge may be the result of students who brought lunch to school or may not have eaten taking part in the program.

“It’s amazing to see that many more kids getting meals at school,” Metro schools spokesman Joe Bass said. “That’s a huge win and shows how powerful the program is.”

Part of the increase reflects the bump in Metro’s enrollment, which went from around 83,000 students last year to a projected 85,000 for the current 2014-15 school year.

But school officials believe the spike is tied directly to a federal program that gives participating local school districts an alternative to collecting and processing individual applications for federal free and reduced lunches - in which nearly three-fourths of MNPS students are eligible.

Instead, local districts serve meals free of charge to all students and are then reimbursed by the federal government using a formula that takes into account the needs of students in the district. In the end, that makes it cost-neutral for Metro and other Tennessee school districts that have chosen to take part in the program.

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Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com

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