Community Eligibility Provision a Win for Schools, Families and Students

September 09, 2014

A new pathway to healthy meals for all students

A couple weeks ago, we posted a blog about Chicago Public Schools’ decision to implement the Community Eligibility Provision across the entire district, ensuring that the district’s 400,000 students (approximately 90 percent of whom are low income) have access to free breakfast and lunch during the school day. While Chicago has been a leader with its Breakfast in the Classroom program, high nutrition standards, and now districtwide free breakfast and lunch, the great news is that Community Eligibility is available to all schools and districts across the country that qualify.

Community Eligibility was introduced as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and debuted in Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan at the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Washington, D.C., New York, Ohio and West Virginia were onboarded in 2012-2013. And Georgia, Florida, Maryland and Massachusetts offered the provision last school year. This school year (2014-2015), all schools nationwide that meet the 40 percent threshold of low-income students are eligible to participate.

“The Community Eligibility Provision provides more eligible children with access to the healthy school meals offered through the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast program, while streamlining paperwork for parents and schools,” said USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. “We’ve seen this approach succeed in reaching at-risk children in 10 states and the District of Columbia, and now schools in low-income areas across the country will have a new opportunity to feed their students breakfast and lunch at no charge to families.”

So, why is this such a big deal? At Healthy Schools Campaign, we know that student health is critical to success in the classroom and in life. Simply put, students cannot learn to the best of their ability if they are arriving at school with an empty stomach or if they don’t have access to a nutritious meal during the school day. Furthermore, in the face a nationwide childhood obesity crisis, and with many students consuming up to half their daily calories at school, schools are not only places to learn about reading, math and science; students can also learn about healthy foods and eating habits to help fuel their education and lifelong health.

“Consuming nutritious meals at school, especially breakfast, can have a profound impact on the educational achievement of children,” said Concannon. “Adopting the Community Eligibility Provision not only benefits schools, but represents an important step in supporting a healthier next generation.”

Initial evaluations by the USDA have demonstrated that participating schools have increased participation in their school meal programs, and have experienced increased revenue and decreased administrative costs.

While that’s great news for schools, the real win here is for parents and guardians who struggle to send their kids to school each day with a full stomach and a healthy lunch. And for kids who may no longer have to face the unfortunate stigma of standing in a separate line or producing an ID card to receive a free or reduced-price meal that differentiates them from their “better off” peers.

If you are a school administrator, teacher or a parent who is interested in learning more about the Community Eligibility Provision, or to find out if your school is eligible, visit the website of the USDA. You can also use the USDA’s state-by-state guide to check the eligibility of your district or school.