The Community Eligibility Provision provides schools and districts in low-income communities the opportunity to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students on a four-year cycle. Despite the disruption of school nutrition operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, year-after-year adoption of community eligibility has not slowed among schools and districts across the country, as explored in FRAC’s report on community eligibility in the 2020–2021 school year.
Here are the key findings from the report:
- 5,479 school districts have one or more schools that have adopted community eligibility, an increase of 361 school districts, or 7.1 percent, from the 2019–2020 school year;
- 33,171 schools have adopted community eligibility, an increase of 2,551 schools, or 8.3 percent, from the prior school year;
- 68 percent of eligible schools have adopted community eligibility;
- 5 million children attend a school that offers free breakfast and lunch to all students through community eligibility, an increase of over 530,000 children, or 3.6 percent, from the prior school year.
Community eligibility offers a wide variety of benefits for students and schools alike. Offering school meals to all students at no charge increases participation, which helps eliminate the stigma associated with participating in school meals, allows more students to experience the educational and health benefits linked to eating school meals, and supports school nutrition finances. It also reduces the administrative burdens and costs of operating the school nutrition programs and eliminates unpaid school meals fees.
The success of community eligibility highlights the benefits of offering school meals to all students at no charge. From March 2020 through the 2021–2022 school year, all schools have been given the opportunity to implement Healthy School Meals for All through the pandemic-related child nutrition waivers that were granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To overcome the pandemic’s educational, health, and economic impacts on children and families, and the financial challenges forced on school nutrition departments, Healthy School Meals for All should remain the new normal for all schools across the country.
FRAC, alongside hundreds of national, state, and local organizations, is calling on Congress and the Biden administration to continue to allow schools to maintain Healthy School Meals for All. Organizations and individuals can contact their Members of Congress and urge them to support this critical child nutrition support.