Recent changes to the National School Lunch Program could allow a major expansion in the number of Hawaii schools that offer free meals to all students. But it’s unclear how many of schools will take advantage of the Community Eligibility Provision program, which provides schools in high-poverty areas with federal funds meant to subsidize the cost of offering free breakfast and lunch to all families.

Before recent changes to the program, schools where 40% or more of students were low-income or had high-needs could qualify for the CEP. That includes students who are homeless, in foster care or enrolled in federal initiatives such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Under recent changes to the program, the qualifying threshold has dropped to 25% of a school’s student body. According to a database from the Food Research And Action Center, which uses data from the 2022-23 school year, 83 new schools in Hawaii could enroll in the CEP.

Nicole Woo, director of research and economic policy at the Hawaii Children’s Action Network, said hungry students can’t learn. Even if families qualify for reduced-price lunch, they may still struggle to cover the remaining costs of school meals and could benefit from the CEP expansion, she added.

“The benefits are clear,” Woo said. “We certainly hope the Department of Education and charter schools will take advantage of this new rule to get free meals to more kids.”

But, Woo acknowledged, making this change might be easier said than done.

Read the full article about free meals for Hawaii schools by Megan Tagami at The 74.