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18,000 Schools Choosing to Become Hunger-Free

More than 18,000 schools in high-poverty neighborhoods across the country have adopted community eligibility this school year, which allows them to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge without collecting and processing individual applications.  A new report from CBPP and the Food Research & Action Center details community eligibility’s growing popularity in its second year of nationwide availability and explains why more eligible schools might benefit from adopting it.

Among the highlights:

  • The number of schools adopting community eligibility rose by roughly 4,000 this school year.
  • These more than 18,000 schools, which serve more than 8.5 million children across nearly 3,000 school districts, represent 51 percent of all eligible schools, a strikingly high take-up rate for such a new federal option. 
  • Consistent with last year, take-up was higher (65 percent) among the highest-poverty schools.

Community eligibility eliminates redundant paperwork at high-poverty schools and helps them meet vulnerable children’s nutritional needs by providing them with a free, healthy breakfast and lunch each day.  Reliable access to healthy meals, in turn, better prepares students to learn. 

The President and Congress created the community eligibility option in 2010.  Eleven states piloted it for three years, and it became available nationwide in the 2014–2015 school year.  Take-up rates in individual states have risen as more eligible districts — and state agencies — have become aware of its benefits and ease of implementation.

Still, many eligible schools still haven’t yet implemented community eligibility, and take-up varies substantially across states (see map).  Our new report is designed to help state and local education stakeholders, school nutrition administrators, policymakers, and state and local anti-hunger advocates identify eligible schools and districts that haven’t adopted the option but could benefit from it.