More than 30 WV Schools Systems Participating in New Option to Further Universal Free Meal Project
Nearly 90,000 public school students in West Virginia will have the opportunity to eat breakfast and lunch at school at no cost thanks to the Community Eligibility Option (CEO). Throughout the state, 35 of 54 eligible county school systems have decided to participate in the CEO.
West Virginia is one of only four states to be selected to participate in the CEO for the 2012-2013 school-year. The CEO allows the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) to expand its Universal Free Meals pilot, which currently serves Cabell, Clay, Fayette, Gilmer, Lincoln, Mason, McDowell and Mingo counties. All eight have seen increases in the number of students eating breakfast and lunch during the last school year as a result of the pilot.
Approximately 283 schools will participate in the CEO during the 2012-2013 school year. Nineteen county school systems elected not to participate in the CEO for various reasons, including cost, lack of county board approval, and the inability to provide free meals to students outside of the eligible schools.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released data reporting high levels of food insecurity and hunger across the country. In West Virginia, nearly 14% of residents are unsure where they will get their next meal and more than 88,500 children live below the poverty line.
The CEO was enacted as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and provides universal meal service to children in high poverty areas. This is the second year for the option. The CEO is an alternative to collecting, approving and verifying household eligibility applications for free and reduced price eligible students in high poverty served by Local Education Agencies (LEA), such as the WVDE. If at least 40% of a school’s students are directly certified for free meal benefits, the entire school qualifies for the option.