State streamlines certification process for school lunch program

FILE PHOTO: Old Orchard Elementary School fourth graders work together to mix a salad in a giant mixing bowl at the Kids' Cooking Campaign at the Santa Clarita valley School Food Services Agency on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. Katharine Lotze/Signal
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More than 800,000 students throughout California, and up to 15,110 in the Santa Clarita Valley, are now eligible for free and reduced price lunch through the state’s Medi-Cal Direct Certification process.

This process allows local educational agencies to use Medi-Cal data, included on the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) direct certification reports, to certify eligible students for the state’s school lunch program.

The data exchange between the state departments and public school districts, county offices of education and charter schools occurs securely without disclosing student’s Medicaid status, health information or specific data, according to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

“This new process is a great example of government agencies working together to create a more efficient system that better serves our students and can help to increase the number of students who receive healthy meals,” Torlakson said in a statement.  “Now, many students can start the school year with their meal eligibility already in place, giving them access to the nutritious food they need to stay focused in class and ready to learn.”

According to the California Department of Education, this direct certification process eliminates the need for families to fill out meal applications which in turn reduces the administrative tasks of verifying and processing applications.

The number of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch during the 2016-17 school year. Source: Ed-Data

In the Santa Clarita Valley, the direct certification option simplifies the application process for families and for employees of the Santa Clarita Valley School Food Services Agency (SCVSFSA), which serves students in four of the area’s five school districts.

“Parents don’t have to fill out the application and they get directly certified for the whole school year,” said Lisett Celedon, a SCVSFSA employee who handles all free and reduced meal applications.  “If they have a sibling that’s not on the [eligibility] letter they can go ahead and call us and it certifies the sibling as well.”

Celedon said the agency began implementing the Medi-Cal Direct Certification option in September of this year.

“It makes it easier for the parents so they don’t have to go through the whole process of filling out applications,” she said.

Families still have to fall within a certain household income to meet eligibility requirements for the school lunch program; however, this process now speeds up the process for all involved.

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