Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How Many Schools Should Be Eligible to Provide Free Lunch Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act? - The Atlantic

How Many Schools Should Be Eligible to Provide Free Lunch Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act? - The Atlantic:

When All Kids Eat for Free

Congress is considering a rule change to the school-nutrition law that would bar thousands of schools from offering complimentary lunch to all students.

 Much has been made recently of Detroit’s resurgence and growth. In January, President Obama made a swing through the Motor City, touting “something special happening in Detroit.” Yet the comeback has not been evenly felt across the city. The Michigan League for Public Policy’s 2016 Kids Count Data Profilerevealed a major fault line earlier this year. From 2006 to 2014, child poverty in Detroit increased by 29 percent, to about 94,000 children or well more than half (57 percent) of the city’s population under the age of 18.* The unavoidable conclusion: Many of Detroit’s youngest residents remain mired in hardship and hunger.

During the school day, the job of filling children’s empty stomachs rests with Betti J. Wiggins, the executive director of Detroit Public Schools office of school nutrition. The district enrolls about 46,000 students, and advertises free breakfast and lunch for every child—not just those who qualify and apply for the benefit. Wiggins credits a little-known provision in the federal child-nutrition bill for boosting participation and feeding more of Detroit’s students at school. But those nutritional benefits are now at risk, as Congress moves to reauthorize the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. A proposed rule change to the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)—widely praised by budget experts and school officials—would effectively leave thousands of impoverished Detroit students, who now eat breakfast and lunch at school, unfed.
The rationale for the program is fairly straightforward. CEP, now in its second year of nationwide availability, allows high-poverty schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students at no cost, instead of collecting individual applications for free or reduced-price meals for students who qualify based on family income. Whether a school is eligible for the provision is based on data illustrating how many children are food insecure, whether they live in households that receive food stamps, live in foster care, are homeless, or other criteria that identify them as part of a food-vulnerable group. Under the program, a school district, group of schools, or single school with 40 percent or more “identified students”—those who automatically qualify for free school meals because they fall within the prior special classification—is eligible to adopt community eligibility. The House bill would raise the eligibility threshold to 60 percent, forcing thousands of high-poverty schools nationally to rollback school meals.

Wiggins said the program allows districts like hers to feed more hungry kids. “In income-insecure households, the first item to be reduced is food, in both quantity and quality,” she said. Since CEP, Detroit has experienced an average daily participation increase of 22 percent across the district. She anticipates that with the higher eligibility limit almost 8,000 fewer breakfasts and about 9,300 fewer lunches would be served to students each day. This represents a projected 40 percent drop in eligible high-school students who will abandon school meals, Wiggins said, because of the “consequential identification” of being a free-lunch student. Additionally, CEP reduces administrative costs associated with processing school meals applications. Wiggins said the cost of printing, How Many Schools Should Be Eligible to Provide Free Lunch Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act? - The Atlantic:

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