Mapping Schools’ Adoption of Community Eligibility

February 27, 2015 at 9:00 am

These interactive maps show the extent to which eligible school districts and schools in each state have adopted community eligibility, which allows qualifying high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge.  Along with our new report, searchable database, and guide to promoting community eligibility, they’re designed to help parent organizations, teachers, and other stakeholders in low-income communities identify which schools and school districts have taken up the option and which others could benefit from it the next school year.

The first map shows the share of eligible school districts adopting the provision; the second map shows the share of eligible schools adopting it; and the third map shows the share of highest-poverty schools adopting it.  When you scroll over a state, detailed data appear. When you click on a state, the bar chart below the map displays that state’s implementation data compared to national data.

More than 14,000 high-poverty schools serving more than 6.6 million children adopted community eligibility this year.  But many eligible schools in poor communities haven’t yet adopted it, which means low-income students are missing out.  These resources can help school districts consider whether to adopt community eligibility for the 2015-2016 school year.

Spreading the Word About How to Make Schools Hunger-Free

February 23, 2015 at 1:09 pm

This spring, high-poverty schools that haven’t yet adopted the Community Eligibility Provision — which allows them to serve breakfast and lunch free to all students — will have a new opportunity to elect it for next year.  Our new guide explains how key stakeholders like parent organizations, teachers, and others can promote the option among educators and school nutrition administrators.  Schools that learn about the benefits of community eligibility will be hard-pressed to pass up the opportunity to simplify their programs and better prepare their students to learn.

Schools in high-poverty neighborhoods face special challenges.  Their students often lack many of life’s basics, including nutritious meals.  By eliminating the need for these schools to collect and process individual meal applications, community eligibility ensures that unnecessary paperwork doesn’t get in the way of giving needy children two nutritious meals every school day.  Educators are among the option’s biggest proponents (see here and here) because they know that hungry children struggle to learn.

More than 6.6 million children in more than 14,000 schools benefit from community eligibility, which became available nationwide this school year.  But about half of eligible schools don’t use it, which means thousands of schools in poor communities and millions of low-income students are missing out.

States must publish by May 1 a list of districts and schools eligible to adopt community eligibility, but most schools and districts will know before then whether they’ll likely be eligible.  School districts have until June 30 to decide whether to implement it in some or all eligible schools.  Over the next few months, community leaders, child advocates, and policymakers can help spread the word about this powerful tool for high-poverty schools to ensure that their students are well fed and ready to learn.

Data Desire Needn’t Be Barrier to Kids’ Meals

October 14, 2014 at 1:41 pm

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is now available nationwide, yet some districts are hesitant to implement it for fear of losing data from school meal applications.  But to get the data, we need not sacrifice school meals for kids.

Across the country, teachers and school nutrition administrators have praised CEP, which allows high-poverty schools to feed all students breakfast and lunch at no charge, for streamlining the school meal programs.  One of its key benefits is that participating schools don’t collect meal applications or make individual eligibility determinations, removing an administrative burden on school districts.  Instead, whole schools qualify to implement CEP based on the share of their students who are automatically approved for school meals because their families are enrolled in an anti-poverty program like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) or because they are at risk of hunger due to being homeless or in foster care.

While eliminating meal applications simplifies school meal programs, school districts have long used the income data from applications to gauge a school’s or family’s poverty level to target education funding or other benefits to the most needy.  As a result, it’s critical that CEP not disadvantage high-poverty schools or low-income children with regard to education funding or services.  It is equally important that an interest in data from school meal applications not stand in the way of making it easier for low-income children to receive the nutritious meals they need at school.

School districts and states that need a data source to replace the meal applications can use one of many available alternatives.  The U.S. Department of Education has issued detailed and flexible guidance on how CEP schools can fully participate in Title I, the federal education funding stream for disadvantaged students.  The guidance offers three main options for alternative data that school districts can use when implementing CEP.  The states that adopted CEP over the past few years have praised the flexible options.

States have taken different approaches with regard to their own education funding and other benefits that states and school districts allocate based on meal application data.  Louisiana and Texas, for example, are relying on the data that remains available through the school meal programs (Louisiana combines it with data from other programs).  States like Kentucky and Michigan have school districts collect individual income information outside the meal programs, which makes sense when the data are needed for other purposes.  California requires school districts to collect individual income data, but they can then use the data for four years.

Changing data sources does require administrative adjustments and may result in modest shifts in funding allocations.  But we hope that schools’ desire for data about which children are struggling with poverty and food insecurity won’t stand in the way of alleviating those hardships.

VA Governor Lauds Community Eligibility

September 29, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has good things to say about the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows high-poverty schools to provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge.  Speaking recently about how to improve education, he said in part:

It will surprise no one here to learn that studies show poverty is the number one predictor that a student will face educational challenges. . . .  Nor will it surprise anyone that the number of students here in Petersburg impacted by the local economy is high. . . .  This doesn’t excuse failure – in fact it makes it all the more important that we help these children succeed. . . .

[Local] educational leaders are ensuring that students get the nutritional support they need through the Community Eligibility Provision.  This important program allows school divisions to offer free breakfast and lunch to every student if the division meets certain criteria. Richmond and Petersburg have implemented this program division wide, and Norfolk has opened the program to its eight eligible schools.

[School nutrition] programs work and we need to ensure that every single Virginia school division is taking maximum advantage of federal and state resources to get students the nutrition they need to fulfill their potential. . . .

I want to stress the importance of running these programs in a way that eliminates the stigma about free and reduced [price] meals. There should be no special lines or unique treatment for these students, so that they can get the nutrition they need without embarrassment.

The option became available to high-poverty schools nationwide this year for the first time, and preliminary data show that 86 Virginia schools have adopted it, reaching almost 43,000 students.  Officials in other states have described the difference that it’s making in terms of student attendance and academic performance.

Educators and policymakers have long recognized that hungry students are not well-positioned to learn.   CEP is a proven tool to ensure that all students at high-poverty schools have two nutritious meals daily, which helps them succeed in the classroom.

School districts interested in adopting community eligibility for the current school year can reach out to their state nutrition director for further information.

Counting Down to August 31 Deadline to Adopt Community Eligibility

August 28, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Schools have a few more days before the August 31 deadline to opt in to the Community Eligibility Provision.  Community eligibility — which allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge without having to process meal applications —is a proven success and an important tool to help children achieve their academic goals.  More than 28,000 schools nationwide are eligible to adopt the provision and become hunger-free.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has encouraged states to continue to accept applications after the deadline and even after the school year begins.  During this transition year, schools can still implement community eligibility even if they have disseminated and collected free and reduced-price meal applications, according to USDA’s July 2014 Guidance.  The sooner they adopt the provision, however, the sooner they will be able to cut back on paperwork, receive reimbursement according to the community eligibility formula — and make meals more readily available to all students.

Community eligibility allows high-poverty schools to ensure that students are ready to learn and receive two nutritious meals every day.  Schools can receive more information on their individual state’s application process by contacting their State Nutrition Director.