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Meals will be free at this Fargo elementary school; 2 others may follow suit

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Madison Elementary, seen Friday, Aug. 3, in Fargo, will offer free breakfast and lunch to all students. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 2

FARGO — Breakfast and lunch will be free for all students at Madison Elementary School in the upcoming 2018-2019 school year, not just students from low-income families, according to Fargo School District officials.

Nutrition Services Director Cindy Hogenson said based on how federal reimbursements are applied to school meals, it's likely to be a wash for the school district.

The real benefit, she said, is to students who now go hungry because their families have either failed to fill out the required paperwork or fall just short of the income requirements. Families may also be too proud to ask for free meals or the forms required are too difficult to understand, especially for New Americans, she said.

Another benefit, she said, is less paperwork for parents and schools.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes all school meals, though how it does so depends on the program. One of the programs allows schools to offer individual students free or reduced-cost meals. Another program aimed at schools in areas where there are many low-income families allows schools to offer free meals to all.

AnnMarie Campbell, the Fargo School District spokeswoman, said that as of November there were 73 Madison students receiving free meals and 21 receiving reduced-cost meals out of a student population of 126.

That suggests at least three-quarters of the students come from low-income families.

According to the USDA, schools can offer free meals to all students if at least 40 percent of students come from families that receive food stamps or are on another type of government assistance.

Madison is one of three Fargo schools that qualify with 49 percent of its students fitting that description, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. The others are Ed Clapp Elementary School with 45 percent and Jefferson Elementary School with 57 percent.

Madison and Jefferson serve an area east of the Main Avenue ramp onto Interstate 29. Ed Clapp serves an area east of the 32nd Avenue South ramp onto I-29.

Hogenson said the school district is starting out with Madison because it has a smaller enrollment than the others to see the financial implications of the complex federal funding formulas. If the program works well at Madison, she said, she expects Ed Clapp and Jefferson will also offer free meals for all.

Madison school will still send out applications to families, the school district said, but these will be for other programs that have income requirements not for meals.

Tu-Uyen Tran
Tran is an enterprise reporter with the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began his newspaper career in 1999 as a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, now owned by Forum Communications. He began working for the Forum in September 2014. Tran grew up in Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington.
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