When the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act authorized the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), schools in high-poverty areas gained another important tool to fight childhood hunger. By the end of school year 2014-15, the first year CEP was available nationwide, more than half of all eligible schools had already jumped on board.
Low-income schools of all kinds – rural, urban, elementary and secondary – recognized the potential impact they could have on their communities by offering meals at no cost to all students. Yet, some schools encountered more bumps on the road to implementation than others.
After assessing their options and deciding CEP made financial and practical sense, some schools still faced challenges with state laws and regulations that made it difficult to implement the provision. But we’ve seen schools and districts find ways to make CEP work for them. For example, Maryland had an existing law that required state compensatory education aid to be calculated based on data from the household applications for free and reduced priced school meals. However, applications are not collected under CEP because the federal reimbursement rate is determined based on other sources of pre-existing data from programs such as SNAP or TANF.
To address this issue, the Maryland State Department of Education introduced the Hunger-Free Schools Act, passed and signed into law in May 2015. As a result, all 188 schools in Baltimore began participating in CEP, providing meals at no cost to approximately 85,000 students.
Arkansas also recognized the value of CEP but was confronted with a similar issue: How would eliminating applications under CEP affect the allocation of state funding? Local stakeholders worked with Arkansas lawmakers to ensure schools that wanted to elect CEP would continue to receive appropriate state funding. Arkansas introduced a legislative change allowing funding to be based on data from the year prior to implementing CEP. The Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas legislature continue to work together to explore options so schools that participate in CEP do not lose out on any funding increases over the four year CEP cycle.
As states like Maryland and Arkansas can attest: Even if it takes a little effort, implementing CEP can pay off big time through benefits to parents, schools, students, and administrators. If your school or district is facing difficulties implementing CEP, reach out to your state agency.
Check out our earlier post on the economic implications of CEP, and stay tuned next week for the last post of the series.