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Why Schools Are Adopting Community Eligibility

Participating schools report that community eligibility, which enables schools in high-poverty areas to serve meals to all students at no charge, improves children’s access to healthy meals, cuts paperwork for parents and schools, and makes school meal programs more efficient.  Previously available in 11 states, the option will be open to more than 25,000 high-poverty schools and more than 2,800 school districts in all states starting this fall.  Below are a few recent statements by school officials — the first two from districts that have already implemented community eligibility, the rest from newly eligible schools that will implement it this fall — on the new option’s benefits.

  • Carrie Woodruff, food director of Lima, Ohio, schools:

    “We have 93 percent participation in lunch and about 89 percent participation in breakfast. . . .  We see less nurse visits, more academic success, higher test scores and better attention spans.  A hungry child can’t learn. . . .”

  • Larry Spring, superintendent of Schenectady, New York Schools:

    “My mission is to ensure that race, economics, and disability are no longer predictors for student achievement. . . .  [T]he Community Eligibility Option is one way in which we are pursuing equity for all of our students. . . .”

  • Sean McMannon, superintendent of Winooski, Vermont schools:

    “We know very clearly that food insecurity significantly impacts readiness to learn and many other facets of a student’s wellness.  The community eligibility provision will allow us to provide nutritious breakfast and lunch to ALL students free of charge and eliminates the clerical efforts associated with school meal applications.”

  • Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland, Tennessee schools:

    “Anytime you can provide a student with breakfast and lunch, academically they are better off throughout the school day.”

  • Pam Smith, child nutrition director of Lenoir County, North Carolina schools:

    “For years we‘ve been working with parents, trying to fill out a very difficult form to show that their children qualify for a free or reduced lunch.  There’s always been some way for students to know who was on free or reduced lunch and those that were not and there was a stigma attached to that.  That’s now completely removed. We will be able to serve lunch to students with everyone being the same.”

  • Steven Foreman, district director of Title 1 and special programs, Zanesville, Ohio schools:

    “If anything is going to work in our schools today it’s going to be that combined effort between the school and the family. . . .  [Community eligibility] is going to work because it’s going to help the families support the children and we can support them at school. . . .

    “The important thing is that whole stigma [of receiving free school meals] isn’t there anymore. You are no longer a free lunch student because I am too.  Everybody is. . . .  So the stigma disappears and once again we’re all on the same playing field.”

  • Tammy Brunnar, supervisor of nutrition services for Harrison School District 2, Colorado Springs, Colorado:

    “Studies show children who are hungry don’t perform as well in school.  We’re really hoping to create a better learning environment for our students.”

States’ lists of eligible schools are available here.  Eligible schools have until June 30 to opt in for the 2014-2015 school year.