Programs help families when students return to classroom
OKLAHOMA CITY – With the end of summer break, the 2023-24 school year is about to begin for students.
In my hometown of Rush Springs, the annual Watermelon Festival held on the second Saturday of August was and is the “finish line” for the summer months. It was always great to see friends from around town at the park where the festival is held and get reacquainted with them before the first bell rang for the year. While many things have changed in schools today, I am certain that students today feel the same way.
As we enter this new school year, the Oklahoma Legislature has implemented several new programs and provided access to funding for many areas which should benefit students.
Tax vouchers will be accessible to families for providing different options for schooling, along with the funding available for schools to improve security options to protect students. Additionally, older programs such as the Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday held this past weekend allowed families to purchase school clothes with no sales tax.
Another key item to consider is ensuring that children have access to governmental programs that provide healthier lives. SoonerCare, our state’s Medicaid program, is a wonderful program providing health insurance to Oklahoma families that fall into a specific earning level.
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is partnering with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma to raise awareness about this access to insurance coverage. If you would like to see if you and your family qualify, please go to https:// myOKplan.org or call (833) 465-7526 to see if you qualify. You can also go to https://www. insurekidsnow.gov/ to find doctors and dentists who accept Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Another aspect to learning and health is eating healthy meals. The free and reducedprice school breakfast and lunch programs are critical to student health and well-being and ensure that students have nutrition they need throughout the day to learn. Research shows these programs reduce food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor health. In addition, the new school meal nutrition standards are having a positive impact on student food selection and consumption, especially for fruits and vegetables.
The free and reduced meal program is offered to all students, Pre-K through 12th grade in Oklahoma schools. The eligibility scale to receive free or reduced=price meals is based on household size and income. In fact, the USDA has adjusted this year’s eligibility scale to allow more families to qualify.
The Department’s guidelines for free meals and milk and reducedprice meals were obtained by multiplying the year 2023 Federal income poverty guidelines by 1.30 and 1.85, respectively, and by rounding the result upward to the next whole dollar. You can see income levels at https:// tinyurl.com/ or in the attached graphic.
There are many families in Oklahoma communities eligible to receive free or reducedprice school meals but who may not be receiving these financial benefits. Children in households that receive SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), WIC, Medicaid, TANF, FDPIR, and most foster children can receive free or reduced meals by completing the program application.
Please reach out to your local school if you feel that you might qualify, because it also helps the school receive additional governmental funding based upon these numbers, which in turn helps all the students in the school.
And if you are looking for one more familyfriendly road trip before school starts, come visit with me at the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival this Saturday, Aug. 12 and enjoy our homegrown watermelons, great music, and a day well-spent with your family.