Nearly 300,000 students in high-poverty schools across North Carolina could potentially benefit from an initiative that ensures every child in these schools receives two nutritious meals each day so that they are ready to learn all day.
This nationwide initiative, known as the Community Eligibility Program (CEP), allows high-poverty schools to eliminate school meal applications and offer breakfast and lunch to all of their students at no charge. It aims to increase participation rates in breakfast and lunch programs by eliminating the stigma associated with the existing free and reduced meal programs offered only to students from low- and moderate-income families. These students may be reluctant to participate in the free- and reduced lunch program and go hungry, which can adversely impact their ability to succeed academically.
Schools in other states that have already implemented free breakfast and lunch programs for all students in high-poverty schools have experienced positive outcomes. In schools in Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan that adopted CEP for two years, daily lunch participation rose 13 percent. Daily breakfast participation in these schools rose 25 percent. 
For the 2014-15 school year, eligible schools across the U.S. will be able to implement CEPs. In North Carolina, nearly 300,000 students in around 1,600 schools could potentially be served by the program .
This initiative can serve as a powerful option to help alleviate childhood hunger. Ensuring that students receive nutritious meals, in turns, helps enhance the overall quality of students’ classroom experiences. Students are inclined to be more focused and attentive, less distracted, and more engaged when they have enough to eat.
The CEP presents a mutually beneficial investment that can provide immediate and long-term benefits – for students, schools, families, and the larger Tar Heel state. Building a workforce that can compete for good-paying jobs and meet the demands of a 21st century economy requires that students show up to the classroom ready to learn.
Ensuring that more students participate in breakfast and lunch programs is one way to help promote a quality education for all North Carolina students. North Carolina can invest in its future today by encouraging eligible schools to adopt CEP beginning with the upcoming school year.