School Food Program Popular in WV Under Threat
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A bill in Congress could cut a program West Virginia has used to dramatically increase the number of students eating breakfast and lunch at school.
The Community Eligibility Provision lets schools in high poverty areas make meals available to all, without individual eligibility paperwork.
Supporters say it means more poor children eat, which leads to better test scores and fewer discipline problems.
But Zoe Neuberger, a senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says part of House Bill 5003 would knock thousands of schools out of the program, and keep many more from joining it.
"Seven thousand of the schools that are already using Community Eligibility would no longer be able to use it, and there are another 11,000 or so schools that are eligible now, that would lose their eligibility," she points out.
The bill's sponsor argues Community Eligibility is too generous now, and the government could save money by narrowing it.
The program's supporters counter that much of the savings would be eaten up by the additional paperwork.
According to Jessie Hewins, a senior child nutrition analyst at the >Food Research and Action Center, more than 400 West Virginia schools, and nearly 140,000 students, would lose access to Community Eligibility. She says the program has had a lot of success in Appalachia, and she doesn't think it should be rolled back.
"Both Kentucky and West Virginia were early adopters of the program, and both have had really strong leadership to implement the program and roll it out to as many schools as possible,” she stresses. “So, they would stand to lose a lot under this provision."
The Community Eligibility Provision has only been in place since the 2014-2015 school year, but has spread very quickly and is popular, both with parents and educators.
Neuberger says the Senate version of the bill doesn't have the same provision.
"The Senate bill does not include the change to Community Eligibility, and we know that the administration doesn't support that change, either," she states.