— which allows them to serve breakfast and lunch free to all students — will have a new opportunity to elect it for next year. Our new guide explains how key stakeholders like parent organizations, teachers, and others can promote the option among educators and school nutrition administrators. Schools that learn about the benefits of community eligibility will be hard-pressed to pass up the opportunity to simplify their programs and better prepare their students to learn.
Schools in high-poverty neighborhoods face special challenges. Their students often lack many of life’s basics, including nutritious meals. By eliminating the need for these schools to collect and process individual meal applications, community eligibility ensures that unnecessary paperwork doesn’t get in the way of giving needy children two nutritious meals every school day. Educators are among the option’s biggest proponents (see here and here) because they know that hungry children struggle to learn.
More than 6.6 million children in more than 14,000 schools benefit from community eligibility, which became available nationwide this school year. But about half of eligible schools don’t use it, which means thousands of schools in poor communities and millions of low-income students are missing out.
States must publish by May 1 a list of districts and schools eligible to adopt community eligibility, but most schools and districts will know before then whether they’ll likely be eligible. School districts have until June 30 to decide whether to implement it in some or all eligible schools. Over the next few months, community leaders, child advocates, and policymakers can help spread the word about this powerful tool for high-poverty schools to ensure that their students are well fed and ready to learn.