Community Eligibility!

Great blog post from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  In 2010, President Obama signed into law the child nutrition bill.  Included in that bill was a provision known as “community eligibility.” The provision allowed school districts operating in high-poverty areas to offer all students free breakfasts and lunches.

Because these schools already operated in localities where the majority of students were eligible for free or reduced price meals, expanding the program to the remainder of the school population added minimal costs.  On top of that, participating school districts saved significant administration and overhead resources by not having to fill out paperwork.

This is why I love public policy. “Community eligibility” means more children get healthy food and a full stomach.

I’ll let Zoë Neuberger share the good news:

  • Across Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan, 665 schools are now community eligibility schools, serving more than 280,000 students, with additional schools expected to join in the coming year.  More than three-quarters of students at these schools were approved for free or reduced-price meals for the 2010-2011 school year, prior to community eligibility’s start.
  • Across all three states, these schools served roughly one in ten of the children who were approved for a free or reduced-price meal during the 2010-2011 school year.  In Michigan, nearly one in five children who was approved for a free or reduced-price meal last year attended a school that is now participating in community eligibility.
  • Unsurprisingly, more children ate at school once the meals were free for all students.  In community eligibility schools, average daily lunch participation rose from 72 percent in October 2010 to 78 percent in October 2011, while average daily breakfast participation rose from 48 percent to 57 percent over the same period.  Kentucky particularly stands out for an increase in breakfast participation, jumping from 49 percent in October 2010 to 70 percent in October 2011, reflecting more widespread availability of breakfast in the classroom.
  • Every participating school district that we spoke with would recommend the option to other districts serving a comparably poor student body.  Although participating schools receive the federal free meal subsidy for only a portion of meals, school districts report that administrative savings make up for the meal charges they must forgo, and parents and staff have reacted positively to the program.

The program was available in Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan this past year and will be expanding to the District of Columbia, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia for the 2012-2013 school year.  After that, any school district eligible can participate.  Very exciting.

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