SOUTH HAVEN — South Haven Public Schools students who forget their lunch money this next school year won’t have to worry about going hungry for the day.

Starting this fall, all students in the school district can eat lunch and breakfast free of charge.

The school district can do so because more students now qualify for free meals under the National School Lunch Program’s Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).

The provision is a non-pricing meal service option offered for school districts in low-income areas.

The government reimburses schools for breakfasts and lunches using a formula based on the percentage of students that qualify for free meals.

“The data is provided to us by Michigan Department of Education as an averaged percentage for each school, which then allows us to evaluate if it is a viable option for our schools,” explained South Haven Public Schools Food Service Director June Altom. “School meals are reimbursed using that calculated percentage, which for South Haven will mean that 860-870 meals out of 1000, will be reimbursed at the free rate – $3.37 for lunch and $1.97 for breakfast – and the remaining 130-140 meals will be reimbursed at the paid rate, which is 31 cents for breakfast and 37 cents for lunch.”

The program became available for schools nationwide during the 2014-15 school year. South Haven implemented the program in 2015 with a limited number of schools.

The first schools were Lincoln, Maple Grove and North Shore elementary schools. Last year, the school board decided to add Baseline Middle School and the South Haven Alliance campus. Earlier this month, the board members voted to extend the program to the high school, effectively ensuring that all students can eat meals for free for the 2019-20 school year.

“With more students able to get a free meal, we should see an increase in participation at the high school, which in turn will increase our reimbursements,” Altom said. “(We) are required to be self-supporting so that we are not using funds from the school district that should be going into the classroom to support student achievement, so the financial health of the department is a major consideration. As always, we will monitor our financials to ensure that we remain financially sound, while offering this benefit to our families.”