By Suzanne Perez Tobias

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) Federal officials have extended the application deadline for a program that would allow some schools to offer free lunch and breakfast to every student regardless of family income.

In a memo to directors of child nutrition programs across the country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said school districts will have until Aug. 31 to apply to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision. The previous deadline was June 30.

The program, available for the first time this year to high-poverty schools in Kansas, is aimed at reducing child hunger. But officials have said a tight deadline, logistical concerns and unanswered questions about cost may prevent them from applying.

Cheryl Johnson, child nutrition and wellness director for the Kansas Department of Education, said the deadline extension may not help local districts, which "need to make a decision by July 1 so that parents can be notified and to prepare for the coming school year."

So far only a handful of schools in Hutchinson, Topeka and the Kickapoo Nation are close to submitting applications, she said.

Large districts with high concentrations of at-risk children, including Wichita and Kansas City, Kan., still are debating whether to participate, she said.

The state "will continue to provide information and technical assistance to schools that are interested, though, and assist any that have a desire" to participate, Johnson said.

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