School meals for all is successful
Published 9:51 am Thursday, January 15, 2015
A program to provide free meals to school children is seeing success across the nation according to federal officials.
More than half of the nation’s high-poverty schools are now offering breakfasts and lunches to students at no cost through the new Community Eligibility Provision, said U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, who oversees Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services for the department.
“This year for the first time all 50 states have the opportunity to participate in the CEP,” Concannon said. “There are about 6,408,000 students in school this year across the country participating in this program.”
In Tennessee alone, 414,617 children are receiving free meals in 853 schools across more than 80 school districts. The Carter County and Elizabethton City school systems are among those participating in the program.
Under the terms of the program, school systems could adopt CEP system wide or at certain schools. The Elizabethton City School system approved the program for all three of the elementary schools while Carter County schools approved it for all students in grades K-8. Both school systems opted into the program on a one-year trial basis.
CEP works off the number of students in a community who are eligible for free or reduced meals based on income, Concannon said.
If more than 40 percent of the students in the community are eligible, the federal government will reimburse the school system for the cost of all the students meals in the program’s schools.
Overall, Concannon said the program has been successful on the national level.
“It has resulted, across the country, in more students eating breakfast and more students eating lunch at the schools,” he said.
As he has traveled throughout the United States to monitor the program, Concannon said he has heard nothing but positive feedback. “The administrators know it makes a difference in the ability of the children to learn in school when they are not worried about being hungry,” he said. “The school nurses that I have been able to talk to report fewer children coming in with stomach aches or for nodding off in class, things associated with hunger.”
Some school systems were cautious of the program at first, Concannon said, for fear it could affect other state or federal program money the school system already received, such as Title I funding.
“We are working closely with the Department of Education to make sure it does not impact any other government funding the school might receive,” Concannon said. “I am confident that next year even more schools are going to adopt it.”
In addition to helping provide the nutritional needs of the students, the program has other benefits for the children as well.
“It helps remove the stigma from eating free,” Concannon said, adding some students may have refused meals to keep from being picked on by other students for eating free. “This way it’s universal. This way all of those students can be served.”