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Lunch Money: Two years of free meals for all coming to an end
Great Bend USD 428 staff help parents enroll for the fall semester, Wednesday at Park Elementary School. Enrollment will continue at all schools through the first day of school. - photo by Susan Thacker

Time to enroll for fall semester

District buildings at Great Bend USD 428 are now open and have resumed normal business hours of 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., according to Andrea Bauer, public information director for the school district.

On-site enrollment was held last Wednesday and Thursday.

“We had a great response,” Bauer said. “We will continue to enroll students through the first days of school. Online enrollment is still open for returning students through their Family Access account with Skyward.” Visit online.

The first day of school for grades K-6, GBMS grade 7 and GBHS grade 9 is Thursday, August 18 and the first day of school for grades 8, 10, 11 and 12 is Friday, August 19.

The COVID-19 era of free meals for all public school children has ended. Parents with children returning to school this fall may see an added expense from the past two years.

With a few exceptions, the cost for student lunches is going up 15 cents per meal and the cost for breakfast is going up 25 cents. In addition to that, the price of milk has gone up by 10 cents.

Based on a month where 20 meals are served, full-priced breakfast and lunch will cost $65 a month for elementary students, $71 a month for students at Great Bend Middle School and $72 a month for students at Great Bend High School.

That’s another $3 a month for lunch and $5 a month for breakfast. However, the increase will be felt even more because the U.S. Department of Agriculture, administrator of the Federal Free & Reduced Lunch Program, is no longer providing funding that makes all meals free as it did during the pandemic.

Reduced-price meals are $14 a month – $8 for lunch and $6 for breakfast, for elementary, middle school and high school students. Again, those meals were free last year.

“Schools had some flexibilities during COVID so they could serve all kids free meals,” the USDA reports. “Some of those options expired, so many schools can’t serve all meals free anymore. Instead, families will do what they did before COVID. Schools will take applications and use family income to qualify kids for free, reduce-price, or paid meals.”

Great Bend USD 428 Public Information Director Andrea Bauer said the school district is encouraging families to complete the free and reduced meal application before the start of school. The “EZ Meal App” application can be completed online or on-site at a school building during enrollment. Families can visit the district website,

“In addition to families who meet the income eligibility guidelines set by the program, the Department of Children and Families provides information for families that are directly certified for free meals due to their participation in other federal assistance programs such as TANF, WIC, and others,” Bauer added.

Over the past two years, community members have continued to make monetary donations so schools can help families that need lunch money.

“Thanks to the generosity of community members, our schools have funds available to ensure no student goes without a meal,” Bauer said. “While this is a short-term solution to support student nutrition, families should talk with their building principal if they have concerns about paying for meals.”