More than 14,000 high-poverty schools nationwide -- including over 1,000 in Illinois -- adopted a new federal program this academic year aimed at improving access to free meals for students, according to a new analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, enables qualifying high-poverty schools to serve no-cost breakfast and lunches to all students. The program, designed to make school meal operations more efficient and help reduce hunger, eliminates the need for schools to collect household applications to determine which students are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals.
Community eligibility, which began as a pilot program in 11 states, including Illinois, became an option for qualifying schools nationwide this academic year. Illinois was among three states, allong with Kentucky and Michigan, to roll out community eligibility in some schools in the 2011-2012 academic year.
"Community eligibility not only reduces redundant paperwork at high-poverty schools but also makes possible huge gains in meeting vulnerable children's nutritional needs by providing them with a healthy breakfast and lunch at school each day," CPBB's report reads. "Reliable access to healthy meals, in turn, better prepares students to learn. The popularity of community eligibility in its first year of nationwide implementation speaks to schools' desire to improve access to healthy meals while reducing red tape, as well as to the option's sound design."