Over 50 eligible Vermont schools can provide universal free school lunch — offered to all students, and made available without requiring an application — next school year, thanks to a new provision offered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is available to schools were at least 40 percent of students qualify for 3SquaresVT or Reach Up, or have been approved for free school meals by a state agency. In the majority of Vermont schools that are eligible for CEP, 60 to 80 percent of students qualify as low-income, according to a release from Hunger Free Vermont, a South Burlington organization dedicated to ending hunger and malnutrition for all Vermonters.
"The federal school meal programs are some of the best tools we have for reducing childhood hunger," said Marissa Parisi, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont, in the release. "To provide access to school meals for every child who needs them and improve the health of all Vermont's children, we must made school meals universal statewide, and community eligibility is a great start."
The Winooski and Burlington school districts have already announced plans to move most or all of their schools to universal meals for the 2014-2015 school year, according to the release. Other eligible schools have until June 30 to decide whether they will participate.
The release continues:
"Winooski is very excited about implementing the community eligibility provision because it has led to increased student participation in the pilot states,” says Superintendent Sean McMannon of Winooski. “In Winooski, over 80% of our students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. We know very clearly that food insecurity significantly impacts readiness to learn and many other facets of a student's wellness. The community eligibility provision will allow us to provide nutritious breakfast and lunch to ALL students free of charge and eliminates the clerical efforts associated with school meal applications."
“This is an exciting opportunity that schools in our state should seize,” says Laurie Colgan, the Director of Child Nutrition Programs for the Vermont Agency of Education. The Agency of Education is continuing to solicit data from other Vermont schools that may also be eligible to use CEP. For more information about community eligibility, contact Laurie Colgan, Director of Child Nutrition Programs for the Vermont Agency of Education at (802) 479-1187, or Anore Horton, Child Nutrition Advocacy Manager at Hunger Free Vermont, at (802) 865-0255.