State Strategies Manager
The community eligibility provision, through which schools in high-poverty areas can serve breakfasts and lunches to all students at no charge, is designed to work in many different settings — large school districts or small ones, urban or rural areas, district-wide or in selected schools. Various types of districts have embraced the option in its first three years to support their educational goals. The districts and schools that have opted in for this fall, when community eligibility becomes available nationwide, are quite diverse as well.
Several large cities, including Atlanta, Detroit, and Boston, already offer community eligibility, and others have signed up for the new school year. Mobile, Alabama, will offer meals at no charge to all 59,000 students across 89 schools, for example. Indianapolis, Indiana, will serve nearly 31,000 students at 59 schools breakfast and lunch daily.
Very small districts are signing up too, like Darby in rural Montana (population 720), which is adopting it for the local elementary school.
Districts embracing community eligibility also vary by ethnic makeup. They include Montana’s Northern Cheyenne Tribal Schools, where 99 percent of students are Native American, and Harlingen, Texas, where 91 percent of students are Hispanic.
Experience shows that community eligibility works even when the district chooses to implement it at only some of its eligible schools. Polk County, Florida, offered community eligibility at 50 of its 163 schools last year and reports great success with them. Chicago Public Schools, which piloted community eligibility at 215 schools two years ago and expanded it to 465 schools last year, plans to offer it at all 658 schools next year.
The Agriculture Department has extended the deadline for schools to adopt community eligibility to August 31. Until then, districts with high-poverty schools have an opportunity to improve their students’ learning environment and become hunger-free.