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Jackson County to provide all students with free meals next year

Jackson County will provide free meals to all students during the 2024-2025 school year.
Jackson County Schools
Jackson County will provide free meals to all students during the 2024-2025 school year.

Jackson County Public Schools announced this week that all meals will be free for students for the 2024-2025 school year at all county schools.

The school system advocated for an additional $500,000 in its annual budget request to county commissioners to pay for the meals. Commissioners granted the request as part of the county’s budget, which was approved on June 18.

"It is an honor and privilege to work alongside a community that supports public schools. Knowing that our students will be well-fed at no cost for two meals per day, if they choose, is an enormous burden lifted from our shoulders for the upcoming school year,” Jackson County Superintendent Dana Ayers said in a press release. Research shows that students who have appropriate nutrition are more apt to engage and learn in school.”

The funding is a separate line item in the school’s lump sum budget, according to Jackson County Public Schools.

In the county, five schools are designated as Community Eligibility Provisionwhich means that the meals are already covered by federal money. The county funding for the 2024-2025 school year will cover the cost of meals for the additional schools in the district. The five Community Eligibility Provision schools are: Blue Ridge School, Blue Ridge Early College, Smokey Mountain Elementary School, Cullowhee Valley School and Jackson Community School.

This funding will also include meals for students who attend The Catamount School, the lab operated by Western Carolina University in partnership with Jackson County Public Schools since August 2017.

In May, it was announced that the Catamount School, which opened in 2017, would be relocated from Smoky Mountain High School to the Reid Building on Western Carolina University’s campus for Fall 2024. In April and March, some Jackson County Board of Education members said they were concerned about the space that the lab school was taking up inside the high school and that the school needed to move.

Although the lab school operates on the campus of SMHS, it is an entirely separate school system from Jackson County Public Schools.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.