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New Option at Low-Income TX Schools: Free Lunch for All

PHOTO: The USDA's Community Eligibility Provision allows all students to receive free meals at those schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families. Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
PHOTO: The USDA's Community Eligibility Provision allows all students to receive free meals at those schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families. Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
July 21, 2014

DALLAS – Schools in low-income areas are able to try a new approach to their meal programs this fall, and in Texas, the shift is expected to reduce the number of students who otherwise don't get enough to eat.

Rachel Cooper, senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, says with the Community Eligibility Provision, if a high percentage of a school's enrollment is low-income, all students can receive free meals, with the cost covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"It helps decrease food insecurity for children,” she points out. “Parents find it easier, because they don't have to worry about will they be able to pay for their kids' meals?

“Schools find it easier, because they don't have to track down applications and they don't have to force parents to pay back bills that they can't really pay."

Cooper says there are about 1,000 schools in Texas that could take part in the Community Eligibility Provision.

The deadline for them to apply with the USDA is August 31.

Among the schools already accepted into the program is the Dallas Independent School District, where Riyad Alsaid is the director of technology for Food and Child Nutrition Services.

He says this change will help the district save money and time by streamlining the process – and for students, access to regular meals means better results academically.

"They concentrate more, Alsaid stresses. “They're more attentive. They feel more refreshed to pay attention to the teacher and the curriculum.

“And I can only imagine that long-term trend of academic improvement will follow."

A new report shows Texas is also making progress in fighting food insecurity when children are on summer vacation.

Cooper says that is another important piece of the puzzle.

"We have way more work to do in the summer,” she says. “But we are finally seeing some improvement in that, in a lot of sustained effort from a lot of people to make sure that every day, there's a source of adequate healthy nutrition for these kids, no matter what."

According to the Food Research and Action Center, the average daily participation in federal summer meal programs in Texas rose by more than 8 percent between 2012 and 2013.






John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX