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.