Top 10 Reasons for Schools to Adopt Community Eligibility

July 17, 2014 at 12:15 pm

I joined thousands of school nutrition administrators from across the country in Boston this week for their annual conference to share information about how high-poverty school districts can eliminate applications and serve meals to all students at no charge under the new option known as community eligibility.  Over and over, I heard from people who spend their days feeding children about how much it pains them to watch a hungry teenager avoid the cafeteria out of embarrassment or to have to collect lunch fees from struggling parents.  And, encouragingly, I heard about many districts that are poised to implement community eligibility, including El Paso, Texas, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Sumter, South Carolina.

Community eligibility can help schools in many ways.  For example, one Oregon school nutrition director who plans to adopt community eligibility, declared that she will not have to process 11,000 school meal applications this fall, enabling her to spend more time planning appealing, nutritious menus.

School districts have until August 31 to opt in to community eligibility for this coming school year.  Here are ten reasons to adopt community eligibility:

  1. Make the cafeteria the hot spot.  Meal participation increases in schools using community eligibility.
  2. Stop pushing paper.  Community eligibility eliminates meal applications.
  3. Be an innovator.  Community eligibility increases breakfast participation and makes it easier to offer breakfast even after the school day officially starts.
  4. Eliminate collections.  Without fees, schools won’t have to track down parents who haven’t paid.
  5. Reduce teen angst.  When all students eat at no charge, students worry less about being stigmatized for eating a school meal.
  6. Impress your accountants.  When more students eat, schools can achieve economies of scale and the per-meal cost falls.
  7. Get gold stars from teachers.  Increases in breakfast participation are associated with decreases in discipline referrals, visits to school nurses, and tardiness.
  8. Give parents peace of mind.  Parents know that their children can get two healthy meals each day.
  9. Be part of something #trending.  In the first three years, 4,000 schools offered community eligibility, and 28,000 schools are eligible to offer it now.
  10. Make your school hunger free.  Community eligibility ensures children get the meals they need to grow, learn, and thrive.

“All In with Chris Hayes” Highlights Community Eligibility

July 11, 2014 at 11:10 am

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes covered Chicago’s decision to adopt community eligibility, which allows schools with high percentages of low-income children to serve breakfasts and lunches to all children free of charge, for all its schools.  The story from earlier this week, which also featured other large districts that have adopted community eligibility, explained how taking the option helps children while simplifying the administrative tasks for schools.  Community eligibility means that “kids can concentrate on their work instead of their hunger and, notably, takes away the stigma of being a free-lunch kid,” Hayes explained.

More than 28,000 schools nationwide are eligible.  Schools have until August 31 to sign up.

Here is the clip:

Community Eligibility in 70 Seconds

July 10, 2014 at 12:47 pm

This brief video highlights the key benefits of community eligibility, which allows schools with high percentages of low-income children to serve breakfasts and lunches to all children free of charge.  More than 28,000 schools nationwide are eligible.  Schools have until August 31 to sign up.

Wide Variety of Schools Opting to Become Hunger-Free

July 7, 2014 at 12:08 pm

The community eligibility provision, through which schools in high-poverty areas can serve breakfasts and lunches to all students at no charge, is designed to work in many different settings — large school districts or small ones, urban or rural areas, district-wide or in selected schools.  Various types of districts have embraced the option in its first three years to support their educational goals.  The districts and schools that have opted in for this fall, when community eligibility becomes available nationwide, are quite diverse as well.

Several large cities, including Atlanta, Detroit, and Boston, already offer community eligibility, and others have signed up for the new school year.  Mobile, Alabama, will offer meals at no charge to all 59,000 students across 89 schools, for example.  Indianapolis, Indiana, will serve nearly 31,000 students at 59 schools breakfast and lunch daily.

Very small districts are signing up too, like Darby in rural Montana (population 720), which is adopting it for the local elementary school.

Districts embracing community eligibility also vary by ethnic makeup.  They include Montana’s Northern Cheyenne Tribal Schools, where 99 percent of students are Native American, and Harlingen, Texas, where 91 percent of students are Hispanic.

Experience shows that community eligibility works even when the district chooses to implement it at only some of its eligible schools.  Polk County, Florida, offered community eligibility at 50 of its 163 schools last year and reports great success with them.  Chicago Public Schools, which piloted community eligibility at 215 schools two years ago and expanded it to 465 schools last year, plans to offer it at all 658 schools next year.

The Agriculture Department has extended the deadline for schools to adopt community eligibility to August 31.  Until then, districts with high-poverty schools have an opportunity to improve their students’ learning environment and become hunger-free.

Alternative Poverty Data Readily Available for Schools That Eliminate Meal Applications

June 23, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Our new report explains how states and school districts can obtain data on the family incomes of students in schools that adopt community eligibility, which allows schools in high-poverty neighborhoods to offer nutritious meals to all students at no charge.

A key benefit of community eligibility is that participating schools don’t have to collect school meal applications.  But that means these schools no longer have the family income data from those applications, which some states use to allocate education funding and some school districts use for other purposes, such as monitoring student achievement.

Alternative data sources are available to meet these needs, our report explains.  One example is a school’s “Identified Student Percentage,” the share of its students that other need-based programs have identified as automatically eligible for free school meals.  That figure is highly reliable and readily available for every school, whether it offers community eligibility or not.

The positive experience of states and school districts that have already implemented community eligibility shows that the loss of school meal application data shouldn’t dissuade others from adopting community eligibility.