Community Eligibility: A Win for Everyone

Hunger is a particular menace to students living in high-poverty neighborhoods, and consequently places these youth at an academic disadvantage. Students experiencing hunger have lower math scores and are more likely to repeat a grade.1

Fortunately, the Community Eligibility Provision, an option available nationwide to high-poverty schools, empowers school districts to ensure children do not go hungry during the school day by providing breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge. Now is the time for school districts to sign up for this powerful new provision. Interested school districts can apply throughout the 2015-2016 school year by contacting their state child nutrition agency.

Community eligibility has a history of success. In the 2014-2015 school year, more than 14,000 schools participated in community eligibility—offering free, healthy school breakfasts and lunches to more than 6 million students. In a recovering economy, this provision:

  • Provides much needed relief for budget-constrained families
  • Alleviates administrative burden for schools by eliminating the need to process and verify school meal applications
  • Increases participation in the school meals programs

This allows school staff to redirect time and resources into improving nutrition quality and boosting customer service. The increased participation also produces cost savings because schools are able to take advantage of economies of scale.

By offering meals at no charge to all students, community eligibility makes it easier for schools to leverage innovative school breakfast service models, such as breakfast in the classroom, grab and go and second chance breakfast. These service models integrate breakfast as a part of the school day, which enables more children to start the day ready to learn. Community eligibility is a win-win-win for students, families and schools.

Interested? Here are resources to guide you through the first steps:

  • Use the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Community Eligibility Database to see what schools are eligible in your district
  • Convene the appropriate stakeholders—food service director, principal, school business official—to discuss community eligibility
  • Gather input from the community by elevating the visibility of the Community Eligibility Provision at an upcoming school board meeting
  • Review the Food Research and Action Center’s Community Eligibility Resource page and our advocate’s guide for model materials and more information about the provision

As summer comes to a close, school administrators are preparing for the new school year and teachers are double checking lesson plans to ensure that students are ready to excel in the classroom this fall. However, preparing students for academic success does not stop here.

Teachers, principals and superintendents know when the benefits of innovative teaching techniques, comprehensive lesson plans and cutting edge technology are not fully maximized—or even wasted—students come to class hungry. Let’s invest our energy into ensuring that the nutritional needs of our most vulnerable students are met by leveraging the benefits of the provision.


Mieka Sanderson is the child nutrition policy analyst at the Food Research and Action Center.

High-Poverty Schools Receive Healthy Meals

shutterstock_245685964Students poised for academic success fuel their minds and bodies with nutritious meals every day—not just on test days. The Community Eligibility Provision, created by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 and now available nationwide, enables high-poverty schools to offer all of their students a free and nutritious breakfast and lunch each school day. Now is the time to see if your school district could benefit from this remarkable opportunity in the 2015-2016 school year.

Thousands of schools—more than 14,000 in fact—and more than 6.5 million students are seeing the educational and health benefits of community eligibility. Offering free breakfast and lunch to the entire student body transforms the school culture, allowing students to enjoy school meals without feeling stigmatized. Schools that implement community eligibility see participation in both breakfast and lunch increase, which means that more children have the energy they need to learn throughout the day.

Community eligibility also benefits schools by reducing administrative burdens. School meal applications are not collected, which reduces administrative costs and frees up staff time. Additionally, increased meal participation allows schools to take advantage of economies of scale resulting in lower cost per meal. Offering meals free to all students also means that schools don’t have to try to collect unpaid fees or cover the cost of meals when families struggle to pay.

To take advantage of this incredible opportunity, keep these dates in mind:

  • Today: Start a conversation about whether or not community eligibility is the right choice for your school or school district. For more information on the provision, check out the Food Research and Action Center’s Community Eligibility Resource Find out which schools and districts in your state have implemented community eligibility or were eligible for the 2014-2015 school year using the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Community Eligibility Database. Use this model presentation to inform others.
  • May 1, 2015: Each state agency will publish a list of schools and school districts that qualify for community eligibility. Review the list to see which local schools qualify.
  • August 31, 2015: To implement the provision for school year 2015-2016, make sure your school district submits an application no later than August 31, 2015.

Mieka Sanderson is a Child Nutrition Policy Analyst at the Food Research and Action Center where her work primarily focuses on expanding the reach of the School Breakfast Program among low-income youth.