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.

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