The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has recently begun funding the school lunches for enrolled members of the tribe who attend school off the Qualla Boundary.
The tribe has funded the lunches of those who attend school on the reservation for years and decided it should do the same for the others. Cherokee students who attend school in Swain, Jackson, Haywood and Graham counties — either because they live in those communities or commute off the reservation for school by choice — now have their lunches paid for by the tribe.
Haywood County Schools Associate Superintendent Dr. Bill Nolte said he thinks it’s “very honorable” for the tribe to pay for the lunches and breakfasts. The tribe only pays for those who do not already receive free lunch through the federal government as a low income student.
The tribe began the program in most counties last spring, but Haywood County is just getting going with it because of the paperwork required, including identifying enrolled members.
The tribe simply reimburses the schools for the lunches. For instance, the tribe has paid Jackson County $23,858 so far this year for the lunches. There are 333 Cherokee students in the Jackson County school system, but 119 get free lunch already through the federal government, while the others are covered by the tribe.
Haywood County Schools Child Nutrition Director Sandy Brooks said she thinks all students should have their school lunches funded by the government, adding that students don’t pay for books or bus rides so why should they pay for lunch.
If student lunches were free it would be less hassle to run the school cafeteria because there would be less paperwork, Brooks said. Some urban school districts, from D.C. to Denver, have launched free breakfast as an incentive to get students to school on time every day, and found that it is working.
Director of the Cherokee Youth and Adult Education Program Pam Straughan said the Tribal Council passed a resolution last year to pay for students’ lunches off the reservation after parents from Graham County complained that their children had to pay for lunches while enrolled members who went to school on the reservation did not.