Guest blogger: Maureen Fitzgerald, Director of Advocacy, Hunger Task Force

Last month, Wisconsin’s Green Bay School Board voted unanimously to enroll 14 Green Bay high-poverty schools in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) (pdf).  As a result, more than 5,000 low-income children who attend Green Bay schools will now have access to breakfast and lunch at no cost starting this fall. These schools join more than 381 other high-need schools in 91 districts that are enrolled in community eligibility across the state.

Here’s how we got Green Bay on board:

For over a year, my team and I at Hunger Task Force used targeted advocacy tactics to help Green Bay school district — the fourth largest in the state – see how community eligibility would support the district’s mission to educate all students to be college, career, and community ready. We met with legislators, sent letters to principals at eligible schools, and submitted a letter to the editor to raise awareness about the opportunity that Green Bay had to adopt community eligibility.

We pointed to success stories, such as Milwaukee Public Schools, the state’s largest district, which, due to community eligibility, now serves more than 10,000 more meals a day. We also touted how community eligibility helped the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, the second largest school district in Milwaukee County, to double its school breakfast participation.

Yet despite Green Bay being a good financial fit for the program, traditional outreach methods failed to convince administrators to adopt community eligibility.

But we didn’t give up.

To apply additional pressure, in the spring of 2016, Hunger Task Force formed a coalition of local partners which included the National Education Association and Green Bay Educators Association (GBEA) and the Green Bay Advocates for Public Education, a local parent group.

We worked closely with our partners to amplify a diverse set of voices calling for adoption of community eligibility in the Green Bay school district. During coalition meetings, teachers spoke about students that had meal account charges past due. They shared stories of keeping snacks in their desks to feed hungry children and how they see hungry children struggle every day.

Alongside partners, we identified decision makers in the district administration and on the school board who favored and opposed the program. We determined what barriers existed to implementation so as to tailor conversations and outreach materials. Using our community eligibility grouping tool(Excel file) we showed Green Bay how adopting community eligibility would be a win-win for both students and the district: more than 5,000 children would benefit from CEP and the district could increase school meals revenue by nearly $250,000 a year.

After our two month intensified campaign to convince Green Bay administrators to enroll in this vital program, the district school board voted 6-0 to enroll 14 schools in the Community Eligibility Provision.

We are still celebrating this huge victory!

There is still time to ensure that more schools in your state are participating in the 2016-2017 school year, however, the deadline for enrollment in community eligibility is quickly approaching – August 31, 2016. Some state agencies may accept applications beyond this date; however please check in with your state agency.

Find eligible schools and school districts for your state by using the Food Research & Action Center’s (FRAC) searchable database.  For more strategies on how to advocate for the implementation of community eligibility, use FRAC’s and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ updated resource, “An Advocate’s Guide to Promoting Community Eligibility” (pdf).