The Community Eligibility Provision: A Win for Everyone

Guest post by Mieka Sanderson

Hunger is a particular menace to students living in high-poverty neighborhoods and consequently places these youth at an academic disadvantage. Students experiencing hunger have lower math scores and are more likely to repeat a grade.

Fortunately, the Community Eligibility Provision, an option available nationwide to high-poverty schools, empowers school districts to ensure children do not go hungry during the school day by providing breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge—and now is the time for school districts to sign up for this powerful new provision. Interested school districts should apply by August 31 but may be able to apply throughout the 2015-2016 school year by contacting their state child nutrition agency.

Community eligibility has a history of success. In the 2014-15 school year, more than 14,000 schools participated in community eligibility, offering free, healthy school breakfasts and lunches to more than six million students. In a recovering economy, this provision provides much needed relief for budget-constrained families, alleviates administrative burden for schools by eliminating the need to process and verify school meal applications, and increases participation in the school meals programs. This allows school staff to redirect time and resources into improving nutrition quality and boosting customer service. The increased participation also produces cost savings because schools are able to take advantage of economies of scale.

USDA photo by Bob Nichols (Wikimedia Commons).

By offering meals at no charge to all students, community eligibility makes it easier for schools to leverage innovative school breakfast service models such as breakfast in the classroom, grab and go and second chance breakfast. These service models integrate breakfast as a part of the school day and, as a result, enable more children to start the day ready to learn. Community eligibility is a win-win-win for students, families, and schools.

Interested? Here are some resources to guide you through the first steps:

  • Use the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Community Eligibility Database to see what schools are eligible in your district.
  • Convene the appropriate stakeholders—food service director, principal, school business official—to discuss community eligibility.
  • Gather input from the community by elevating the visibility of the Community Eligibility Provision at an upcoming school board meeting.
  • Review the Food Research and Action Center’s Community Eligibility Resource page and our advocate’s guide for model materials and more information about the provision.

As summer comes to a close, school administrators are preparing for the new school year and teachers are double checking lesson plans to ensure that students are ready to excel in the classroom this fall. However, preparing students for academic success does not stop here. Teachers, principals and superintendents know that the benefits of innovative teaching techniques, comprehensive lesson plans, and cutting edge technology are not fully maximized, and are even wasted, when students come to class hungry. Let’s also invest our energy into ensuring that the nutritional needs of our most vulnerable students are met by leveraging the benefits of the community eligibility provision.

Mieka Sanderson is a child nutrition policy analyst for school nutrition programs at the Food Research and Action Center. In this role, she assists local and state level partners expand the reach of the School Breakfast Program among low-income youth.

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