Participation in community eligibility (pdf), the federal school meals provision that allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch at no cost to all students while eliminating the traditional school meal application process, has grown each year. In the 2016–2017 school year, over 20,000 schools enrolling more than 9.7 million children benefited from community eligibility (pdf).  Still, there are many more schools that could adopt community eligibility. Now is the time for advocates to work with school districts to determine whether schools or districts are eligible to implement or expand this option for their high-needs schools for the 2018–2019 school year.

Offering free breakfast and lunch to the entire student body can transform a school’s culture by allowing students to enjoy school meals without feeling stigmatized. Schools that implement community eligibility frequently see participation in both breakfast and lunch increase, which means that more children are getting the nutrition they need to learn throughout the day, and federal funding increases.

Community eligibility also benefits schools by reducing administrative burdens. School meal applications are not collected, which reduces administrative costs and frees up staff time. Increased meal participation allows schools to take advantage of economies of scale, resulting in lower costs per meal. Offering meals free to all students also means that schools do not need to collect unpaid fees or cover the cost of meals when families struggle to pay their share of costs.

To take advantage of this important opportunity:

  • Find out which schools are eligible. Each May, states must publish a list of schools and school districts that qualify for community eligibility. Use FRAC’s interactive community eligibility map to find your state’s list.
  • Reach out to FRAC. FRAC can assist with identifying eligible school districts and provide tips on how to advocate for community eligibility.
  • Start the conversation. Talk to school district administrators at eligible school districts about implementing community eligibility for the first time or expanding it to additional schools. For more information on the provision, check out FRAC’s Community Eligibility Resource page.
  • Remember the deadline. To implement the provision for school year 2018–2019, school districts must inform the state agency of the intent to participate by June 30, 2018.

Make sure to join FRAC for two interactive discussions on community eligibility to learn from school nutrition directors who have implemented community eligibility with identified student percentages (ISP) under 60 percent and maintained the financial integrity of their program: