Support School Meals for All

Election Day is Tuesday, November 8, 2022!

Have Your Voice Heard!

Voter Information

Voters will be able to vote in the 2022 election by absentee by-mail, in-person early voting, and Election Day voting. You can check your voter registration and sample ballot at https://vt.ncsbe.gov/RegLkup/.

Questions for Candidates

As you encounter candidates on the campaign trail and at candidate forums, consider asking their opinion on these important health policy topics.

Health Equity

  • What does health equity mean to you?
  •  What policies do you support to advance health equity?
  • What is a workable solutions for achieving health equity in North Carolina?

Access to Healthy Food

  • Do you support a statewide school meals for all policy to serve breakfast and lunch to every student in every public school at no cost to the student?
  • What policies do you support to increase access to healthy food?

Active Living

  • What policies do you support to ensure that our children are getting enough physical activity?
  • How would you support active modes of transportation, including bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure?
  • What do you think is a workable solution to address the lack of safe spaces to be active in communities across North Carolina?

Commercial Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation

  • What policies do you recommend to address the rising use of e-cigarettes among young people?
  • What recommendations do you have to increase access to cessation services?
  • What do you think is a workable solutions to decrease the state’s high rates of commercial tobacco use?

In case you missed it, we’ve got quite a buffet of resources when it comes to school meals. 

Blog posts: 

Catching Up on School Meals: For the past 2 years, all students have received school meals at no cost thanks to federal USDA waivers during the COVID-19 pandemic. But those waivers expired on June 30. What does this mean for school meals in North Carolina?

In our FWIW (For What It’s Worth) blog series, we are attempting to break down the intricacies and confusion around school meals and hopefully shed light on the “worth” of school meals. The school meals program is extremely complicated so we are taking bite-sized portions and serving them up each week. You can catch up on the past blog posts below and look for a new topic next week!

Reports: 

Webinars & Podcasts

  • School Meals 101: In this recorded webinar, Marianne and Katie break down school meals and their funding. 
  • Voices of Hunger in NC: This podcast series, presented by the NC Alliance for Health and MomsRising, explores food, hunger, and equity in North Carolina. 

The North Carolina Alliance for Health is working to ensure that every student at every public school benefits from school meals for all. If you’re interested in learning more, sign up for our School Meals for All Campaign.

For what it’s worth (FWIW), we believe that school meals are one of the most essential parts of the school day and that every child in every public school in the state should be able to eat school meals at no cost. But (disclaimer), the school meals program is extremely complicated. In our FWIW blog series, we will attempt to break down the intricacies and confusion around school meals and hopefully shed light on the “worth” of school meals.  We’ve looked at how school meals are funded, how school meals are reimbursed, the household meal application, and the Community Eligibility Provision. In this post, we’re digging into the National School Lunch Program and celebrating National School Lunch Week. 

One intricacy of school meals is that there isn’t just one school meal program. There are quite a few different programs that School Nutrition Programs can participate in and we promise that we will get to them all (eventually). But let’s focus on the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) for now. The NSLP is a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children in public and nonprofit private schools and residential care institutions. 

The history of school lunches is almost as intricate as the school meal system. School lunches have evolved from volunteer efforts led by teachers and mothers’ clubs in the early 1900s to small-scale federally-funded programs during the Great Depression. In 1946, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was established under the National School Lunch Act and signed by President Harry Truman after an investigation found that the poor health of men rejected for the World War II draft was associated with poor nutrition in their childhood. Fast forward to the 1990s, when big changes to standardize the nutritional quality of school meals led  USDA to launch the Healthy School Meals Initiative to improve nutritional education for school-age children. 

One thing that has stayed the same is that children learn best when they are fed and school lunch is an important part of student success. National School Lunch Week (NSLW) was created in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy to promote the importance of school lunches on students’ lives and the positive impacts school lunches have inside and outside of the classroom. This year, National School Lunch Week is celebrated the week of October 10-14. During this weeklong celebration, School Nutrition Programs will celebrate with special menus, events, and activities with the goal of increasing student participation and spreading the message to families and the public that schools serve healthy and delicious lunches. We hope you will help spread the word that school lunch matters and every child at every public school should have access to school meals at no cost, regardless of their family’s income.

This week, the Biden-Harris administration unveiled its National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. And guess what? They included healthy school meals for all! We think this is a huge victory, however, the strategy doesn’t push for healthy school meals for all right now. Instead, it includes a “pathway” with steps to make healthy school meals for all a reality by 2032 which, obviously, is 10 years away. 

For what it’s worth, we are all for taking steps to get to the best possible outcome for students in North Carolina and across the country. In our opinion, the first and most important step should be to ensure every student in every public school has access to school meals at no cost regardless of family income, as they have for the past two years. This needs to happen NOW. Not in ten years. North Carolina kids can’t wait. 

Once every child in public schools has access to school meals at no cost, then it’s ok to move on to the other strategies to “advance a pathway to free healthy school meals for all”. The White House strategy includes “efforts to increase access to local and regional food systems.” We said this very same thing two years ago in our food policy roadmap, Secure Families, Farms, and Communities. We continue to advocate for farm-to-school programs and the ability of schools to purchase local items. We love this strategy because it invests in local economies and supports local food systems 

Other key provisions of the White House’s strategy include investing in the school nutrition program workforce. If you’ve been with us for any length of time, you know we’ve been advocating for wage increases and state funding for school nutrition staff and increasing funding in general for school nutrition programs. The strategies that have been laid out by the Biden-Harris administration are in-line with the strategies and policies that NCAH and our partners have been advocating for on a state level for many years. It’s encouraging that the White House shares our commitment to ensuring everyone has access to healthy food.

We will admit that we haven’t been actively advocating for scratch-made meals, but we agree this would be beneficial. You know that saying, “Perfect is the enemy of the good?” We feel like this saying fits the White House’s strategy. If we wait until we get the whole system perfect, we will have missed out on a lot of good that school meals for all could be doing NOW. Kids can’t wait until 2032.

For what it’s worth (FWIW), we believe that school meals are one of the most essential parts of the school day and that every child in every public school in the state should be able to eat school meals at no cost. But (disclaimer), the school meals program is extremely complicated. In our FWIW blog series, we will attempt to break down the intricacies and confusion around school meals and hopefully shed light on the “worth” of school meals. We’ve looked at how school meals are funded, how school meals are reimbursed, and the household meal application.  In this post, we’ll take a look at the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). 

In North Carolina and across the country, some schools participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP is a meal service option that allows eligible schools, school districts, or groups of schools to provide breakfast and lunch at no cost to all students in the school. The goal is of CEP is to ensure access to nutritious school meals in high poverty communities.

Schools, school districts, or groups of school that want to participate in CEP have to be eligible.  Eligibilityis determined by an Identified Student Percentage (ISP) of 40% or higher, which equates to 65-70% of students being eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Schools use what’s known as direct certification to determine their ISP. Direct certification is achieved by data-matching households that receive the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, and children who are certified for free meals without the family meal application because they are homeless, migrant, enrolled in Head Start, or in foster care. Because school districts and schools participating in CEP use direct certification to determine their identified student percentage (ISP), they no longer have to collect meal applications each year from students and families to provide meals at no cost to all students.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of schools in North Carolina that are eligible to participate in CEP. Some schools choose not to participate in CEP because the numbers don’t work out. It sounds crazy, but remember back to our posts on how school meals are funded and how they are reimbursed? It was complicated, right? Same thing with CEP. The meals actually served get reimbursed at either the reduced-meal price or the free meal price based on the identified student percentage (ISP). Some schools aren’t able to stay in the black because the reimbursements they receive don’t cover the cost of operating the school nutrition program. Those schools typically choose not to participate in CEP even if they are eligible. Another reason a  school or district might not participate is that they don’t fully understand CEP or they assume the numbers won’t work for them. 

The final numbers for how many schools in NC are participating in CEP this school year aren’t in yet. The CEP application process was one federal waiver that did get extended to allow schools and districts more time to apply. We did some of our own quick research and found that there is definitely an increase in schools participating in CEP this school year and that makes us very excited. It means more students in the state have access to school meals at no cost.

Additionally, the proposed federal Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act could make CEP an option for more schools and ensure that more students across North Carolina have access to school meals at no cost. This proposed legislation would increase the amount of meal reimbursements, lower the identified student percentage to be eligible for CEP, and create a state-wide option for CEP. If this legislation were to pass, it would be a game changer for CEP and school nutrition programs across the country. 

School meals matter and participation in CEP has been shown to have a positive impact on students. For what it’s worth, we believe that school meals for all are crucial to student success in North Carolina.

For what it’s worth (FWIW), we believe that school meals are one of the most essential parts of the school day and that every child in every public school in the state should be able to eat school meals at no cost. But (disclaimer), the school meals program is extremely complicated. In our FWIW blog series, we will attempt to break down the intricacies and confusion around school meals and hopefully shed light on the “worth” of school meals. We’ve looked at how school meals are funded and how school meals are reimbursed. In this post, we’ll take a look at household meal applications. 

In North Carolina, there are some schools that participate in the Community Eligibility Provision or CEP (which is also complicated but that’s for a future blog post). CEP provides meals at no cost to all students in the school and families do not have to complete household school meal applications to determine if they are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Schools that are eligible for CEP have high percentages of students from low-income families. 

Schools that do not participate in CEP send home household applications and some also post them online for families to complete to determine if they are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Eligibility is based on a number of factors, including household size, federal poverty level, and household income. Based on these figures, families will fall into one of three categories: eligible for reduced-price meals, eligible for free meals, or ineligible for either, meaning students must pay full price for school meals. In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation that provided funding to cover the co-pay amount for reduced-price breakfast. This summer, the General Assembly included funding in the budget to cover the copay for reduced-price school lunches for the 22-23 school year. So families who are eligible for either reduced-price or free school meals based on their household application will be able to eat both breakfast and lunch for free this school year.

It’s important to note that because of the COVID-19 pandemic and federal waivers, families have not had to fill out the household application for the last two years. Schools and school districts across the state are working to communicate the importance of completing the application since some families have never had to do this and others may not know that the waivers have ended and they must submit an application.

The household application is actually more than just a meal application. It benefits students and families in ways that most people don’t know about. The most obvious benefit to students is that the application is used to determine if they are eligible to receive school meals at no cost. Eligible students can also receive discounted fees for the SAT, ACT, and other academic tests, as well as discounted college application fees. Sports and other extracurricular activity fees can also be discounted or even free for students who qualify. Families can also qualify for discounted internet services. All of these benefits are available with just one application! Students also benefit from increased school funding that is based on data from family meal applications. It really is more than just a meal application.