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Emily Pickren

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2015 – The Community Eligibility Provision, the very successful federal option that allows high poverty schools to offer nutritious meals to all students at no charge, is reaching more children in low-income communities in its second year of national operation, according to Community Eligibility Adoption Rises for the 2015- 2016 School Year, Increasing Access to School Meals (pdf), a new report by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

Community eligibility became an option for high poverty schools nationwide for the first time in the 2014-2015 school year, and schools across the country have been quick to adopt it due to its many benefits and the encouragement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and education of anti-hunger advocates. In the 2015-2106 school year, more than 18,000 high poverty schools in nearly 3,000 districts adopted community eligibility. These schools serve more than 8.5 million students who now have access to two healthy meals a day at school. With more than half of all eligible high poverty schools participating, the program grew significantly in the second year of nationwide availability, increasing by 4,000 schools compared to the 2014-2015 school year.

“Community eligibility allows high poverty schools to create hunger-free environments to support learning, and it is working. Greater participation in school meals means more low-income students have access to the nutritious food they need to learn and thrive,” said Jim Weill, President of the Food Research and Action Center. “We need to build on the success that community eligibility has achieved in its first two years by ensuring the program is implemented in eligible high poverty schools in every state and district.”

Community eligibility reduces paperwork and relieves administrative burdens for schools so they can reach many more children and also operate more efficient school meal programs. As a result, schools that adopt community eligibility are able to focus more time and resources on providing healthy meals to all students to support student health and academic success.

The report notes that, while participation among eligible schools has grown substantially, many qualifying schools have not yet implemented community eligibility, and the report highlights state-to-state variations. By identifying eligible schools that are not participating and states with significant room to grow, noted FRAC and CBPP, schools and states can better implement the program and begin using this powerful tool to ensure more low-income children have the healthy breakfasts and lunches they need to succeed in school every day.