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New Option for Many ID Schools: Lunch Without the Paperwork

PHOTO: About one-third of schools in Idaho have a new option for lunch. They can offer lunch and breakfast to all students free of charge, if they are 'high-poverty schools.' Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
PHOTO: About one-third of schools in Idaho have a new option for lunch. They can offer lunch and breakfast to all students free of charge, if they are 'high-poverty schools.' Photo credit: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
May 7, 2014

BOISE, Idaho - Many schools in Idaho have a new option for lunch. They can offer lunch and breakfast to all students free of charge - if they are high-poverty schools.

Colleen Fillmore, director of the state Education Department's Child Nutrition program, said the so-called Community Eligibility Provision has been tested in other states, and one thing administrators appreciate is eliminating families' applications for free and reduced-price lunches. Also there's no need for cash boxes or lunch accounts.

"Any time you look at something, the pros and cons, this is a 'pro.' It absolutely decreases the paperwork," she said.

The definition of "high poverty" is that 40 percent or more of students have been identified as living in low-income households through other programs. Schools are reimbursed for the costs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Schools that implemented the program in previous years saw breakfast and lunch participation increase by up to 25 percent.

Kathy Gardner, director of the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force, said paperwork isn't just onerous for schools; it also can keep children out of the lunchroom. This new way of managing cafeterias welcomes all students, without stigma for those singled out as "poor."

"This provision allows high-poverty schools to offer nutritious breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge," she said. "Remembering that it's high-poverty schools, we know that these families are struggling to put food on the table at home."

All high-poverty schools in the country can implement the program this year. Gardner estimated that about one-third of all schools in Idaho qualify.

Details on CEP for Idaho are online at sde.idaho.gov.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID