Meals Matter: The Community Eligibility Provision and Student Success in North Carolina

The Education Policy Initiative at Carolina (EPIC) and the North Carolina Alliance for Health (NCAH) released a new policy brief, Meals Matter: The Community Eligibility Provision and Student Success in North Carolina.  This brief describes the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) and looks at differences in student outcomes between schools with similar income levels that do and don’t participate in CEP. While the traditional structure of the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program provides free meals only to students who prove that their family meets the income threshold (while other students pay for meals), the CEP deems schools to be eligible based on the number of students who are automatically certified for free school meals based on participation in other means tested programs, primarily the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

School meals have been shown to be the most nutritious option for students. More school meals may lead to more students who are well nourished and ready to learn.  The benefits of universal meals extend beyond better nutrition for students. Research suggests CEP participation leads to better academic performance for students. Our data shows that CEP participating schools had higher academic performance scores leading to higher school performance grades.  CEP participating schools were also less likely to fail to meet expected growth compared to schools with similar percentages of low-income students who didn’t participate in the CEP. 

Access the policy brief here.