Senior Policy Analyst
Eligible schools across the country have until June 30 to adopt “community eligibility” for the 2014-2015 school year, enabling them to serve school meals to all students at no charge. Community eligibility became available in West Virginia a couple of years ago, and State Board of Education President Gayle Manchin recently described the difference it’s made:
. . . Because of community eligibility, West Virginia has successfully increased the number of students participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, reaching more hungry kids. On an average school day, before community eligibility was implemented, less than half of the students in our state who were eligible for a free breakfast received one, and only a third of students eligible for reduced price breakfast did.
Things have changed. During the 2013-2014 school year, 70 percent of counties in West Virginia are implementing [community eligibility] in 335 schools and providing over 40 percent of our students with free nutritious meals. As a result of community eligibility, which we combined with innovative models for serving breakfast, breakfast participation has risen by 15 percent. We have also reduced paperwork, helping to lower costs and free up staff time to focus on educational priorities.
In schools that have adopted community eligibility, we have a multitude of success stories. Mingo County, located in West Virginia’s southern coalfields, is one such story.
With an unemployment rate of over 10 percent Mingo County students were no strangers to hard times. But the county made a commitment to focus on nutrition and adopted community eligibility to help their students thrive and succeed. They have also incorporated physical activity into the nutrition efforts and the results have been amazing. After implementation, student attendance increased to 97 percent and employee attendance is the fourth highest in the state. Math and reading scores have improved and discipline problems have decreased. . . .
It’s time for us to ensure that students across the country have all of the building blocks necessary for success in the classroom. Reducing hunger will help them not only achieve today, but will also prepare them for a brighter future.