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Learning on an empty stomach

Hunger Free Vermont, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for hungry Vermonters, reported this week that dozens of Vermont schools are eligible for a new federal Community Eligibility Provision allowing them to provide school meals to all students free of charge.

Beginning next year in schools where 40 percent or more of the students are eligible for free school meals through a state agency or some other program, schools can provide free meals without collecting applications from families.

This is good news for many reasons. It is no secret that hungry students don't learn well – period. Providing hungry kids with free breakfast and lunch is not only humane, it's an important investment in their future and in ours. Being hungry impacts students' readiness to learn and many other facets of a student's wellness.

It is also good news that parents of hungry kids (who may also be hungry) don't have to face the stigma of applying for free meals. It removes one more barrier between hungry children and food and it removes one more clerical task from a school administrator's plate.

In Vermont, one in five children live in families where getting enough to eat is an issue, according to Hunger Free Vermont. In the communities with high percentages of kids eligible for free and reduced meals the number of food-insecure children is closer to three in five.

Initial results from the 11 states that have been piloting community eligibility for the past two years show that it leads to more children participating in school meals and that it particularly increases the number of students from all income levels eating school breakfast, an underutilized program that many Vermont schools have been working to expand.

Money spent on children to ensure that they are properly fed and healthy is money well spent. Better to feed kids now so they can get a good education than leave them hungry and unable to learn which has larger repercussions down the line.

It is a good idea in policy and in practice and it is the right thing to do.

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