Recently, the Montana Office of Public Instruction announced that 117 schools in Montana will be eligible to serve more free meals to students using the new “Community Eligibility Provision,” starting in the 2014-15 school year.
Community eligibility allows schools in high-need communities to provide meals to all students free-of-charge instead of collecting individual meal applications and determining eligibility for each family. This change will allow qualifying schools to feed more children, reduce stigma associated with school meals, streamline school meal operations, and potentially save administrative costs.
“More than 1 in 5 Montana children live in food insecure homes, which we know impacts their success at school and overall health. The school meal programs play a significant role in reducing child hunger,” says Kate Devino, Chief Policy Officer at the Montana Food Bank Network. “Community eligibility will allow qualifying schools to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students, helping to ensure regular access to nutritious meals.”
Increasing access to the breakfast program in particular will be beneficial for children of all income levels. For a variety of reasons, families may have challenges providing a complete breakfast to their kids at home. Whether it is a lack of time before parents head to work or kids not being hungry first thing in the morning, knowing that their children have access to a free, nutritious meal at school will have a positive impact on all families in participating schools.
A list of all eligible schools as well as many other resources is posted on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website: http://opi.mt.gov/Programs/SchoolPrograms/School_Nutrition/index.html
Community eligibility has been phased in over three years at pilot sites. Approximately 4,000 schools across 11 states have successfully implemented the provision, leading to a substantial increase in the number of children eating breakfast and lunch at school. The provision will be available nationwide next school year.
The program is available to schools where 40 percent or more of the students are approved 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 the Food Stamp program).
Qualifying Montana schools will have until June 30th to decide whether they will participate in community eligibility.
“This is an exciting opportunity that could benefit thousands of Montana children, helping them succeed in the classroom and supporting their overall health and well-being,” Devino said. “We strongly encourage eligible schools to seize this opportunity.”
For more information, please visit www.mfbn.org or call (406) 721-3825 ext. 225.