AASA Joins National Organizations in Response to Proposed Changes to Community Eligibility Provision

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On Tuesday, April 19 AASA joined the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) for a Congressional briefing on the Community Eligibility Provision. This program is a powerful federal option that enables high-poverty schools and districts to provide breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge.

Enacted in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and available nationwide since school year 2014–15, Community Eligibility has been adopted in more than 18,000 high-poverty schools in nearly 3,000 school districts, reaching more than 8.5 million students, according to a new report from FRAC and CBPP.  As it considers reauthorizing the child nutrition bill, the U.S. House of Representatives has proposed to change the rules for eligibility for CEP. Currently, schools and districts with more than 40 percent of students identified for free and reduced price lunch eligibility through direct certification (such as through SNAP or TANF) are eligible. The House proposal is to change that threshold to 60 percent, which would cause 7,000 schools around the country to lose eligibility.

The briefing kicked off with a welcome from AAP President Benard Dreyer and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), House Education and the Workforce Committee. Both expressed the extreme need for CEP, and how we can move it forward, instead of going backwards on school meals for students.

“CEP is helping schools, it’s helping teachers and, above all, it’s helping address child poverty and reduce the stigma associated with being a child who is food insecure,” said Dreyer.

Congressman Scott, a CEP champion and a leader for access to quality early-, secondary- and higher-education for all of America’s children, said “If you have [CEP], you don’t have the stigma of people having to qualify for free and reduced lunch and produce paperwork at the checkout counter that identifies them as low or moderate income and it just makes it much better.”

“We have a report that goes into detail about the good of the Community Eligibility Provision and why it needs to be maintained – and maybe even improved – but certainly not go backwards because education is at risk and the wellbeing of millions of children,” said Scott.

In addition to providing an overview of the Community Eligibility Provision, a panel of education leaders was also there to share their experiences with the program, and what it would mean for the enrolled schools if the program was taken away. The group included Vonda Cooke, director of child nutrition programs, Pennsylvania Department of Education; Lisa Kyer, business administrator, Lansingburgh Central School District (N.Y.); and Morris Leis, superintendent, Coffee County School System (Ga.).

AASA member Superintendent Morris Leis implemented the program in his district in 2014 and has provided students in 11 of his 12 schools with free breakfast and lunch since. If the proposed eligibility changes are made, six of his schools will no longer be able to remain in the program.

“The CEP is changing lives in a positive way in our community,” said Leis. “The things that are happening because of this program are amazing.”

The community in Coffee County is made up of 43,000 people, which includes 7,700 students that are being educated in the district’s 12 schools. 75 percent of those students are considered economically disadvantaged.

“We’re finishing our second year of CEP and if these changes go through, six of our schools will no longer be eligible,” said Leis. “We’ve got a lot of [students] who fall above the threshold for free and reduced [lunch], but if we didn’t have this program their children wouldn’t eat.”

According to Leis, in the middle school, prior to this program, students simply would not eat because they didn’t want the stigma of being a student eating a free lunch.

Since implementation of CEP, Leis said that students are going to the cafeteria to eat and that the entire school atmosphere has changed tremendously.

“Kids are eating and the whole strata of ‘free,’ ‘reduced’ and ‘paid’ is gone. They’re all the same,” said Leis.

The mission of Coffee County School System is to provide an equitable and excellent education for every student – which is being done through CEP.

“We provide [students] books, we provide them with transportation, we have nice buildings for them to come to, we have good teachers to teach them - and under the old system we’d get them here and make them pay for lunch,” said Leis. “Well now with CEP, we don’t classify. We have equity in our school system.”

For more information on the Community Eligibility Provision, visit frac.org.

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