Half of the high-poverty schools eligible for the Community Eligibility Provision, which became available nationally this year, adopted it to streamline their meal programs and free up resources for other education priorities, the Agriculture Department (USDA) announced today.
For decades, USDA has offered options to allow high-poverty schools to serve meals to all students at no charge. Community eligibility, which has phased in over the last four years, further simplifies the meal programs by eliminating the need for schools to process applications or track individual students’ eligibility.
Nearly 14,000 schools adopted community eligibility this year to better serve their students and impoverished communities, and USDA found that more than 6.4 million low-income students attend these high-poverty schools.
Community eligibility is designed to be easy for various types of low-income school districts to implement. Districts that have adopted it include urban areas like California’s Fresno Unified School District, where 88 percent of students used to qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and rural areas like Kentucky’s Harlan County Public Schools, which serve the families of many laid-off miners. Harlan County adopted community eligibility when it first became available in Kentucky four years ago, and its test scores have improved from the 14th percentile in the state to the 55th percentile — evidence that feeding hungry children can contribute to an improved learning environment.
Educators at eligible school districts that haven’t adopted community eligibility can learn more about it from their peers and adopt it for the rest of the school year, or for next year, so that the low-income children they serve get the healthy meals they need to grow, learn, and thrive.