Arizona Provision Could Result In Free Lunches For Students

By Claire Caulfield
Published: Friday, May 11, 2018 - 5:05am

Next year an additional 265 school districts in Arizona will be eligible for a program to give free lunch to all students, potentially doubling the program.

The Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, is a universal free-lunch program. In Arizona, districts can apply if more than 40 percent of their students are eligible for the federal free and reduced lunch program.

“It limits the stigma some of the students may face when they go to apply for free lunch,” said Angie Rodgers, president and CEO of the Arizona Association of Food Banks, which runs CEP in Arizona.

“It also helps families so they don’t have to go through an application process,” she said. “And I think it helps schools because each of those individual applications they don’t have to process they can just submit one application.”

A new study from Georgia State University found that expanding free meals at school reduced the BMI and increased the percentage of students at a healthy weight.

“It’s important to keep in mind what the implications are on health outcomes, not just cost and food insecurity which are also, of course, equally important,” said Will Davis, a co-author of the study.

As the number of children facing food insecurity grows nationwide, school districts are increasingly looking for ways to provide social services in cost effective and efficient ways.

Davis said CEP’s reimbursement model could be cost-prohibitive for some districts. He said it probably makes the most sense more for elementary and middle schools, which are also the two populations with the most health benefits from CEP, according to Davis’s study.

“High schoolers have more direct control over their food choices, so if they don’t want to eat the food they just wont, unlike younger children,” he said. Rodgers is currently working with the Arizona Department of Education and the 265 districts to ensure that any school that wants to provide free meals can. 

“Schools feed about 600,000 students everyday,” she said. “So it’s a really critical place for kids to get fed and we need to make sure we do everything that we can to strengthen that program.”