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May 13, 2015

Brain Food

More than 450 high-poverty schools across the state can
provide all of their students with school meals at no charge through a federal
program called community eligibility. But just a fraction of these schools are
taking advantage of the chance to give kids the boost they need to succeed.

Even among the 113 highest-poverty schools, only about 40
percent have opted to take part in community eligibility, even though they
would receive full federal reimbursement for almost all of the meals that they
serve. That means 68 of these highest-poverty schools, serving more than 28,000
students, have yet to opt in to community eligibility, despite the clear
benefits of the program.

Serving meals to all students in the poorest schools
ensures that all students in these communities have access to the nutrition
that they need to learn. It also eliminates the stigma that can come with free
school lunch and breakfast. That’s one reason why serving meals at no charge
encourages more students who might otherwise go hungry to take advantage of
nutritious school meals.

What’s more, community eligibility also eliminates school
meal applications, because schools that opt in no longer need to collect
household income information. That’s because the federal government reimburses
schools based on data they already have through other programs, like SNAP,
TANF, or Head Start. That saves a lot of time and effort on administration in
schools with a large number of needy students.

Under community eligibility, schools simply need to count
the meals they served. This simplification allows schools to streamline the way
they serve those meals. It can also help schools serve lunch quicker and with
shorter lines, saving staff time and increasing the time students have to eat.
Community eligibility also helps make sure students get breakfast, by making it
easier for schools to serve breakfast right as students get off the bus, in
first period, or after the bell.

Community eligibility has proven benefits for schools across
Virginia and the rest of the country
It revolutionizes the way school meals are served and makes sure poor students
don’t go hungry. For the 68 highest poverty schools that haven’t opted-in,
there’s no reason to delay making sure that every child can learn on a full

–Mitchell Cole,
Policy Analyst

The Commonwealth Institute

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