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Jack Focht: Take advantage of school meal program

  • Published Friday, May 16, 2014, at 8:20 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, May 18, 2014, at 12:14 a.m.

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The childhood poverty rate has been climbing in Kansas for more than a decade. Right now, it’s up to 23 percent – that’s about 1 in 4 Kansas kids living below the paltry federal poverty level. These children and their families face countless struggles that come with being poor – one of the pressing of which is getting enough food to eat.

There are programs and organizations that are working hard to provide these kids with nutritious meals each day, but they struggle to address the enormous need in our community. A new opportunity, available in Kansas for the first time this year, called the Community Eligibility Provision is probably our best shot at supporting these efforts (May 11 Eagle).

Community eligibility is a federal program that allows high-poverty schools to provide both breakfast and lunch to all students at no cost to families. It’s a great opportunity for Wichita schools. Here’s why:

• Community eligibility is good for students. Kids have a hard time concentrating when they are hungry. They also may act out or behave out of sorts. Expanding access to breakfast and lunch will ensure that no child is hungry in the classroom, which means better learning outcomes such as better attendance and higher test scores.

• Community eligibility is good for schools . Community eligibility was created because schools and families have to spend a lot of time on applications for the free and reduced-price lunch programs. In high-poverty schools, this is a waste of time. And the process keeps many eligible kids out of the program, which means those low-income students are sitting in the classroom with empty stomachs. Community eligibility gives schools more freedom and flexibility by eliminating the requirement to qualify and track these students. It further reduces the shame of being labeled poor, as all students in the school are fed.

• Community eligibility is good for Wichita. As parents, educators and community leaders, we have a responsibility to ensure all children are equipped to succeed in school. Access to quality meals makes children healthier and improves their performance in the classroom.

Schools in other states that have already adopted community eligibility have experienced a dramatic increase in the number of students participating in school meals. Nearly 1 million children have benefited so far.

Now that community eligibility is an option here in Kansas, it’s urgent that we take this opportunity to reduce childhood hunger, support our schools, and give Kansas kids the nutritious food they need to learn, play and thrive.

Jack Focht of Wichita is an attorney and president of the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

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