Community Eligibility Provision can help make Oklahoma schools hunger-free

Despite Oklahoma’s prosperity, too many children go without access to regular, healthy food. State food banks continue to report giving away record amounts of food, and the state’s SNAP enrollment has not significantly declined since spiking in 2010. More than 400,000 Oklahoma students receive free or reduced-cost lunches, and many of them get breakfast at school as well. This firmly establishes the important role schools play in fighting hunger. A new school meals program may better-equip some schools to fight hunger and keep down costs.

Part of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010, the Community Eligibility Provision allows high-poverty schools to provide breakfast and lunch at no charge for all students in some schools, groups of schools, and school districts. This ensures that all students have access to healthy, regular meals, without the stigma of poverty that may come with eating a school lunch. The Community Eligibility Provision has a particularly significant impact on breakfast participation: because all students are expected to eat breakfast, schools may choose to build a brief breakfast period into the school day. This ensures that students are happier, healthier, and ready to succeed in the classroom.

The Community Eligibility Provision comes with advantages for schools, too. In qualifying schools, the program does away with income eligibility paperwork, allowing school administrators to use badly-needed resources previously used to process that paperwork for other tasks. Administrators are also no longer required to hound students receiving reduced- or full-price meals regarding overdrawn accounts if their parents haven’t given them lunch money. Higher meal participation rates boosts schools’ and school districts’ economies of scale to purchase more food at lower prices. Although districts have traditionally relied on the data produced by that paperwork for both state and federal funding, guidance developed by the USDA and state Department of Education means that schools and districts can sign on without fear of jeopardizing funding.

After piloting in 11 states, the Community Eligibility Provision became available nationwide last year. Unfortunately, Oklahoma had one of the lowest uptake rates in the country. Out of an estimated 848 schools in 350 districts, only 100 schools in 18 districts participated during the 2014-2015 school year. This issue brief outlines the benefits of the Community Eligibility Provision, the precise mechanics of how it operates, and how administrators and advocates can determine if the Community Eligibility Provision is a good choice for their schools.

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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