This week is National School Breakfast Week, and this year’s theme is “Take Time for School Breakfast.” For many students, there isn’t always time for breakfast—we’ve recently highlighted how our state can better ensure that schoolchildren reap the many benefits that a nutritious breakfast has to offer, starting with alternative models of breakfast delivery.
Community eligibility, a federal program established in 2010 that eliminated applications for “identified schools,” or schools with a student population where at least 40 percent of students are automatically eligible for free school meals. The program, which saw significant success in the handful of states in which it was piloted, will be expanded to all states in the upcoming school year.
Although it’s evident that health and nutrition are linked to academic and non-academic performance, it’s also obvious that there is significant room for improvement in providing school meals in Nebraska. In 2012, Nebraska was ranked 49th out of 51 on the number of free and reduced-price eligible students participating in the school breakfast program. While the state legislature considers LB 834, a bill that would incentivize the implementation of breakfast service models that are more flexible to the needs of students, we can continue to look at other innovations that ease school breakfast access for Nebraska’s kids.
Streamlining the school meal program for high-poverty schools makes the process easier for school administrators, food service staff, and families. For schools, the elimination of time-intensive paperwork allows school officials to focus their efforts on strengthening the quality and efficiency of their nutrition programs, and many administrators have already reported increased revenues. Additionally, removing the lengthy process of verification makes accessing school meals easier for low-income families. Most importantly, it provides all students with two nutritious meals a day, so that they are ready to succeed in the classroom.
Community eligibility is a promising new option that would ensure that Nebraska’s children, especially those who most need it, are happy, healthy, and ready for a full day of school. Individual schools, groups of schools, and school districts can participate in the community eligibility option for the 2014-2015 school year, and more details on the process can be found in this USDA memorandum.