Guest opinion: Schools can boost nutrition for all students

2014-06-25T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Schools can boost nutrition for all studentsBy LISA BULLOCK The Billings Gazette
June 25, 2014 12:00 am  • 

No child in Montana should go hungry.

It’s an ambitious goal that our schools can help achieve. Starting next school year, eligible schools in Montana can participate in a new school meals option called the Community Eligibility Provision.

CEP helps schools provide breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of income. Eligible schools will receive up to 100 percent reimbursement from the USDA for universal breakfast and lunch. CEP promotes a healthier student body, as well as a healthier school meal budget. Simply put, CEP means more kids get the nutrition they need to focus on their schoolwork instead of an empty stomach.

Eating for success

The importance of ensuring our children eat breakfast cannot be overstated. Studies show that offering an alternative model, like breakfast-after-the-bell, increases breakfast participation rates for low-income children significantly. Additionally, students with reliable access to better nutrition tend to miss less school, perform better academically, and have higher graduation rates. Schools that implement universal breakfast-after-the-bell programs improve students’ performance on standardized math tests by 17.5 percent. Signing up for CEP will help Montana schools better prepare our children for academic success now, as well as a successful career in the future.

In schools that participated in CEP, lunch participation increased by 13 percent and breakfast participation increased by 25 percent. Districts reported positive feedback from parents and school staff as well as an increased ability to feed more children. One-hundred percent of participating districts recommend CEP.

Investing in children

Eligible schools in Montana will benefit from community eligibility. More children will start their school days with a healthy meal and will be ready to learn and grow into the leaders of tomorrow. That’s why my husband, Gov. Steve Bullock, Superintendent Denise Juneau, Lt. Gov. Angela McLean, and I recently sent a letter to eligible schools asking them to adopt CEP.

Feeding hungry children is one of the best investments we can make. Participation of eligible schools in CEP across Montana is instrumental in our fight to end childhood hunger. I encourage schools and districts to return their intent forms to the Office of Public Instruction as soon as possible, before the Aug. 31 deadline. Schools or districts with questions about CEP can call the Office of Public Instruction at 406-444-2501.

Editor’s note: Schools in which 40 percent to 62.5 percent of the student body is eligible for free/reduced price meals may receive reimbursement from USDA for universal free breakfast and lunch under the 2010 Healthy Kids Act. More than 100 Montana schools are eligible. Schools in which more than 62.5 percent of students qualify for free/reduce-price meals may receive 100 percent USDA reimbursement for universal free meals.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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