The Center's work on 'Child Nutrition and WIC' Issues


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.

Schools Can Do Even More to Shield Children From Hunger

September 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

As students begin a new school year, U.S. Department of Agriculture data confirm that too many children — nearly 16 million — live in families that continue to struggle to afford adequate food, known as “food insecurity.”  While many parents in these households can shield their children from hardship, in more than half of them, children themselves were food insecure.  Poor diets and the stress of not knowing when their next meal will be take an enormous and lasting toll on children’s health, development, and readiness to learn.

That’s why the federal nutrition programs that serve children are so important.  Consider the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, well-established programs that have been feeding millions of children for decades, and that keep improving.  These programs reach a striking share of American children.  On a typical day during the past school year, more than 30 million — nearly three in five — students ate a school lunch.  Some 71 percent of those children — more than 21 million — received a free or reduced-price meal.  That means that more than two in five students benefited from free or reduced-price lunches on a typical day last year (see chart).

Despite this extraordinary reach, some children who could benefit from free school meals miss out because their school district doesn’t automatically enroll them as required.  But states and school districts can take steps to ensure that the most vulnerable children receive free meals.

For example, states can improve the processes for automatically enrolling children for free meals when their family receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamp) benefits.  School districts can make sure they are identifying children who are homeless or in foster care so that they begin receiving free meals immediately during a period of family turmoil.  And under a new policy that’s especially important at the start of the school year, schools can begin feeding low-income children as soon as they receive an application, even if they have a processing backlog.

This school year, high-poverty schools across the country also have a new opportunity, under the Community Eligibility Provision, to feed all students at no cost while simplifying their meal programs.  Thousands of schools have already implemented community eligibility and states may continue to accept applications from eligible districts to offer community eligibility for this school year.

For the millions of children in families that struggle to afford nutritious food, being able to count on receiving two healthy meals each school day is a critical support.

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.

What Schools Are Saying About Community Eligibility

August 15, 2014 at 11:14 am

School officials around the country have explained (see here and here) why they’re adopting community eligibility, a powerful new tool to fight hunger in high-poverty neighborhoods by allowing schools to offer nutritious meals to all students at no charge.  As schools and families prepare for the new school year — and as the August 31st signup deadline for eligible schools approaches — here’s more of what school officials are saying about the benefits of community eligibility:

  • Bill Redwine, chair of Rowan County, Kentucky, board of education:

    “This program will have a direct benefit on students in the classroom because teachers know that students who are hungry or have not had breakfast have difficulty concentrating on their schoolwork. . . .  It will also benefit those parents who, in the past, have struggled to provide the money for their child’s meals.  This definitely is a win for our students, for their parents and for our district as a whole.”

  • Jesse Register, director of Metropolitan Nashville, Tennessee, schools:

    “We’re firm believers in educating the whole child and providing them what they need for productive school days.  If a child is hungry, he’s going to have trouble learning.  No child should go hungry and no child should be embarrassed about accepting a meal.  By making it universal, we don’t have to single out any child and we can make family budgets a little less tight.”

  • Margaret Allen, superintendent of Montgomery, Alabama schools:

    “Studies have shown that children who receive proper nutrition perform better in school. . . .   Many of our families live below the poverty line.  Even those that don’t, may skip meals to save money.  This will ensure learning won’t suffer because a student is hungry at school.”

  • Kim Hall, director of child nutrition services, Muskogee, Oklahoma, public schools:

    “Being able to eat a nutritious meal during the day helps the students learn — students that eat during the day are more likely to pay attention because they are not worried about being hungry.”

  • Joey Vaughn, nutrition director, Huntsville, Alabama, city schools:

    “Hopefully, this is going to do away with the stigma [of receiving free school meals] because everybody is going to be able to eat for free.  Nobody’s got to fill out any paperwork; nobody’s got to prove their financial status.”

  • Lisa Stevenson, principal of Neil Armstrong Elementary School, Eldridge, Iowa:

    “Families that don’t have as much money don’t spend the extra money to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store because that’s expensive. . . .  This is an opportunity for us to get kids . . . on the right path to trying new and healthy food when they’re at school.”

  • Donna Hargens, superintendent of Jefferson County, Kentucky, public schools:

    “You can’t learn if you’re hungry so we know that providing breakfast and lunch for more of our kids is a really important ingredient and that’s just integral to kids learning.”