Thirty Vermont schools currently enrolled; up to 45 more eligible
Six months after the launch of a new program to allow qualifying schools to offer free, nutritious meals to all students, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Hunger Free Vermont, school administrators, and others gathered to celebrate the progress of the program and encourage other eligible schools to sign up. Thirty schools throughout Vermont have already enrolled and as many as 45 additional schools may be eligible, according to Hunger Free Vermont.
The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) provides an alternative approach for offering free school meals to all students in areas where at least 40 percent of students would otherwise qualify for individual meal assistance. Instead of relying on processing and tracking individual applications, the CEP allows eligible schools to offer free meals to all students in the school, reducing administrative burdens on school administrators, creating a more inclusive school meal experience, and reducing the stigma that can be associated with receiving free meals.
In the six months since the launch of the program, the 30 Vermont schools already enrolled have reported improved school meal finances and an average school meal participation rate increase of 10 percent, according to Hunger Free Vermont.
Participating schools have also been relieved of the arduous and uncomfortable task of collecting unpaid meal debt from children and parents and have reported increased attention in students as well as fewer school nurse visits and behavioral referrals.
“Everyone knows that kids can’t learn when they’re hungry,” said Gov. Shumlin. “Too often the only nutritious meal some children receive is at school. By allowing schools to put aside the paperwork and focus on feeding students, this program is having a positive effect on our children, our schools, and the hard working teachers who face so many challenges in making sure our children thrive and succeed. Hunger should not be an added challenge. We need to keep up the good work, and I encourage other eligible schools to explore enrolling in this program.”
“We are so pleased that so many Vermont schools are embracing CEP,” said Marissa Parisi, Executive Director or Hunger Free Vermont. “One in five Vermont children continue to live in food insecure households, and providing universal school meals will go a long way toward solving the problem of childhood hunger and malnutrition.”
Schools where at least 40 percent of students are directly certified – meaning they are in households receiving 3SquaresVT or other assistance – are eligible for CEP. Providing free meals to all students increases student participation in breakfast and lunch programs, allowing schools to draw down maximum financial help without relying on parents or students to submit paperwork.
With the Governor’s support, the 2013 Legislature eliminated the reduced-price category for school lunch in all schools, allowing all students eligible for free or reduced price meals to get lunch for free. Since this bill took effect, food service directors have reported a marked increase in school meal participation, which experts know lead to better health and academic performance for Vermont’s students.
Schools interested in applying for next school year have until August 31. Interested schools should contact Hunger Free Vermont or the Agency of Education for assistance in determining whether the program works for their community.