More Missouri Students Receive Free School Meals


New program helps ease burden of cost and paperwork

Through a new federal program, more Missouri students are receiving free meals this school year.

Nearly 300 public, charter and non-public schools across Missouri are participating in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which provides free lunch and breakfast to all students in certain high-poverty schools while eliminating often burdensome paperwork for parents and schools.

“We’re really excited about this new way of providing breakfast and lunch that allows us to put more money into food and less finance into red tape,” said Jeanette Oxford, executive director of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare.

To qualify for CEP, schools’ Identified Student Percentage (ISP) must be at least 40 percent. ISP represents the percentage of students that have received free meals through means other than an application. This primarily includes students who are directly certified for free meals on the basis of their participation in the Food Stamp Program or Temporary Assistance.

“It has really helped take that stress off the parents,” said Althea Albert-Santiago, director of food services for the St. Louis Public Schools.

According to Albert-Santiago, breakfast participation in the district rose 8.6 percent, while lunch participation was up 10.2 percent during the first two weeks of school.

CEP is funded by the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) and comes at a time when more Missouri children are in need of a steady source of food. According to a recent study from the USDA, Missouri is sixth in the country in terms of "very low food security," and has the second highest rate of growth in food insecurity. Nearly 17 percent of Missouri households are considered food insecure.

“I’m pleased that we’re able to participate in this program and make sure that more students can get a healthy breakfast and lunch while they’re at school,” said Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green. “Children cannot learn if they are hungry. This change means that more children will be able to learn, and that’s an investment that will benefit the entire KCPS community.”

Ensuring students are college and career ready is one of the primary goals of Missouri’s Top 10 by 20 initiative, that calls for Missouri to be one of the top 10 states in education by 2020. Studies continue to show that children who have access to nutritious meals perform better in school.