Healthy meals at school is an essential part of many students’ days.
LINCOLN – 275 Nebraska schools will be eligible to serve more students free meals for the 2019-20 school year according to data released last week by the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE).
Thanks to improved methods to identify students eligible for free meals, 275 Nebraska schools may be able to offer meals all students free of charge through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP allows schools in high-poverty areas to receive federal funds to serve meals to all students, ensuring that children whose families are struggling to put food on the table will get the healthy meals at school to fuel their success in the classroom.
“Making sure all students in our Nebraska schools are getting the food they need to learn and grow is a huge priority, and CEP has been proven successful in the U.S. to fight classroom hunger” said Sharon Davis, NDE administrator at Office of Nutrition Services. “Research shows that when children are getting the nutrition they need, they are better able to learn and perform in school, and that has a lifelong impact.”
This year, 275 eligible schools have the opportunity to participate in CEP – a 52 percent increase compared to last year’s 180 Nebraska schools eligible to use CEP. This is due to better tracking of eligible students at the state level through direct certification for free and reduced price meals that was implemented by NDE for school year 2019.
According to NDE, nearly 70 schools may be eligible to receive the free rate of reimbursement for all meals served to their students in 2019-20. Advocates are hopeful this increase in eligibility will help boost Nebraska’s participation in CEP, which has been available nationwide since 2012.
Nebraska schools have been slow to implement the new option, ranking second to last in the U.S. in using CEP for the 2016-17 school year. Just 30 of the 180 eligible (16 percent) schools participated in CEP during the 2017-18 school year.
“Taking up Community Eligibility is one of the easiest ways a school can fight classroom hunger,” said Eric Savaiano, Economic Justice program associate at Nebraska Appleseed. “When children don’t go into the classroom on an empty stomach, they become better students. They retain their lessons and are much less likely to have behavior problems. The classroom environment becomes much healthier for everyone.”
Community eligibility began rolling out to a few states in 2011 and became available to eligible schools nationwide in 2012. The program is available to schools where 40 percent or more of the students are directly certified for free meals without an application because they have been identified as eligible by another program, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as “food stamps”) or Medicaid.
“We encourage all eligible schools to take up Community Eligibility so all Nebraska students are getting the meals they need to be ready for success in the classroom,” said Aubrey Mancuso, executive director at Voices for Children in Nebraska. “In addition to fighting classroom hunger, CEP streamlines school meals and reduces paperwork, making it a win-win for both students and administrators.”
Nebraska schools eligible can apply to participate in CEP for the 2019-20 school year by June 30, 2019. For more information about how to apply for your school, contact Eric Savaiano at (402) 438-8853 ext. 126 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.