Illinois selected to Expand Access to Free School Meals for Children in Need

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education announced today that Illinois was one of the first three states, along with Kentucky and Tennessee, selected for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s launch of a universal free meal option that promises to expand access to free breakfast and lunch to all students in schools with high percentages of low-income children. Preliminary estimates show that more than 1,200 public schools in Illinois could be eligible to participate and provide free meals to more than 500,000 students across the state at the onset of the 2011-12 school year.

“This option eliminates some of the paperwork for schools with a high percentage of students from low income families and ensures that all students have access to the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn in the classroom,’’ said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “Parents will not have to fill out duplicative forms and children in need will have access to healthy school meals without being singled out for receiving a free lunch.”

The “Community Eligibility Option” will allow both public and private schools with a high percent of low-income children to eliminate the use of applications and parental income verification in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Under this option, schools utilize preexisting data to determine the amount of reimbursement they can claim from USDA.

For a school district to be eligible to implement the option in one or more schools next school year (2011-12), the district must have at least one school with 40 percent or more of their students “directly certified’’ for free meals based on a member in the household receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (formerly Food Stamps) or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) in the 2010-11 school year. Direct certification, a federal term, also includes students identified as homeless, migrant children and foster children. The district and school must also agree to offer all students in the eligible school free breakfasts and lunches and cover any cost above the federal reimbursement received with non-Federal funds for four successive school years.

The Community Eligibility Option is among the early reforms enacted as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed by President Obama on Dec. 13, 2010. The Act requires the Community Eligibility Option to be phased-in over three years and authorizes USDA to select up to three states to participate in the option in School Year 2011-12. The option will be offered to additional states in successive years, and will be available to all states beginning School Year 2014-15.

For the phase-in period, the law requires USDA to select states "with an adequate number and variety of schools and local educational agencies that could benefit from the Community Eligibility Option.” USDA identified 10 eligible states and chose the initial three based on a review of their applications.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act authorizes USDA's child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Summer Food Service Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. The legislation is the centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Initiative's goal to end childhood obesity in a generation.

The ISBE is notifying private schools and public districts of their eligible schools and those interested could begin offering the free meals this fall.

More information, including a list of all public schools and the percent of students eligible to participate in free lunch based on direct certification, can be found at