Big Changes in Food Programs Mean Big Improvements in Food Access for BCPS Students!

By Laurie Taylor-Mitchell

Starting in the fall of 2023, BCPS will implement the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a federally funded program, in all schools. This program provides universal breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of income, a program that was lost when it was discontinued nationally by the federal government last year. Students will no longer face going hungry or having to borrow money for lunch or lunch shaming (the same food always given to those who have no money or funds on their lunch cards), and the administrative time and costs for processing thousands of applications will end. Only four schools participated when CEP was first implemented in BCPS – now, 169 schools will implement the program. District-wide participation in CEP for students who need it is a tremendous achievement! Persistent advocacy for years by the Network, particularly through the research of our Advocacy Chair, Tam Lynne Kelley, was a major factor in getting CEP established district-wide.

MMFA, or Maryland Meals for Achievement, is another program improving student access to nutrition. This extremely successful program offers breakfast “after the bell” – if a student’s bus is late or they cannot get to school in time to eat breakfast in the cafeteria before school starts, they can still get breakfast in their homeroom or class “after the bell.” MMFA thus complements CEP, which may offer breakfast before school starts, and many eligible schools have both programs. A school must have 40% of its students qualify for Free/Reduced Price meals to be eligible for MMFA; previously, twenty-seven additional schools in Baltimore were eligible, but no funding was available. All of these schools will now have MMFA. It is hoped that the state will eventually fund MMFA district-wide. For example, Dulaney High School’s poverty level of 33% qualifying for Free/Reduced Price Meals is below the 40% threshold for MMFA, but over 600 students there qualify for Free/Reduced Price Meals and could benefit from this breakfast program. A total of 135 schools in BCPS will now offer breakfast in the classroom so that students will not go hungry all morning if they could not get breakfast before school started.