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

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.

Community Eligibility: A Proven Tool to Address Child Hunger

July 14, 2014 at 11:21 am

Many school districts across the country are adopting community eligibility — which allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge without having to process meal applications — to support their students’ health and learning.  Some eligible districts are wary of the new option (which hasn’t been available nationwide until now) and want to make sure any glitches are worked out before signing up.  But newly available data from the seven states that have had the option for two or three years show that many school districts that took a “wait and see” approach liked what they saw and signed up the next year.

In six of those seven states, the number of schools offering community eligibility grew steadily each year (see chart).  And in the seventh, the District of Columbia, more than half of all students attend community eligibility schools, though the number of participating schools dipped the second year as two schools closed for unrelated reasons.


So, districts considering community eligibility need not worry about being guinea pigs.  Thousands of schools serving nearly 2 million students have already tested it.

Those states and school districts have also developed useful materials that districts considering the option can use.  And the Agriculture and Education departments have answered many of the implementation questions they raised.

In short, community eligibility is a proven tool to help children receive the healthy meals they need to 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.