Getting through school is hard, but it can be especially hard for students from disadvantaged backgrounds in communities with low representation. For these students, programs exist to make their time in school easier, like the Community Eligibility Provision, enacted in 2010, which simplifies the meals program in schools to ensure kids get to eat during the day.
But a new proposal from congressional conservatives would see this program dismantled, making it more difficult for schools to feed their neediest students. Some company-owned programs help students get through public school, but it won’t be easy for these programs to survive if their students aren’t even getting anything to eat at school.
Some students in low-income homes automatically qualify to receive free or reduced-price meals from their public schools because of homelessness, participation in the Head Start program, or other reasons. But other students have to apply for this qualification, which means not all students receive coverage. The Community Eligibility Provision identifies any school that has at least 40% of its students identifying as low-income students and allows those schools to offer free lunches to all students.
Some other programs do exist to make it easier for many disadvantaged students to make it through school, like the SEO Scholars program, an eight-year academic program that aids talented students for eight years, from high school to college. Their goal is to help reduce the income gap, but “SEO doesn’t just reduce the achievement gap. It eliminates it entirely,” said Ken Mehlman, this year’s SEO Annual Awards Dinner chair. “SEO identifies and stimulates the talents, power, and tools that reside in each SEO student, teaching them that there are no limits to their achievement.”
But while that program is important and necessary, it can’t support students by itself. If congressional representatives succeed in taking down Community Eligibility Provision, its removal will restrict student eligibility and worsen increasing administrative burdens to more than 7,000 schools, threatening 3.4 million students’ access to school meals. Lawmakers may vote to raise the ISP threshold—the percentage of low-income students in schools—from 40 percent to 60 percent, but because those numbers don’t represent low-income students who usually apply for free or reduced-price lunches, many, many students would no longer be eligible for affordable food at school.
Instead, House Republicans would take the savings rendered by upping the ISP percentage in schools to allot for summer food programs for poor students and for higher reimbursement rates for school breakfast programs. Those programs are important, too, but it certainly feels like the funding could be found elsewhere. Lunches provided during the school year are an arguably more necessary expense than those over the summer months, but school programs should not be put in contention with each other this way—they are all valuable, and all necessary.