More than 30 West Virginia Schools Systems Participating in New Option to Further Universal Free Meal Project

July 11, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – 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.

“Feeding children is paramount to student achievement,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple.  “We know that countless children in our state go to school each day hungry, making it impossible for them to focus on school work.”  

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 opportunity to participate in the CEO program allows schools to further their efforts to cook from scratch and eliminate the use of processed foods,” Marple said. “The program also aligns with the WVDE’s comprehensive approach to link physical activity, nutrition education and high quality curriculum in an effort to address the needs of the whole child.”

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 percent 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 percent of a school’s students are directly certified for free meal benefits, the entire school qualifies for the option.

For more information contact Liza Cordeiro in the WVDE Communication Office at 304-558-2699. 

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