Community eligibility is a powerful tool for high-poverty schools to provide breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. Community eligibility reduces administrative paperwork for schools so they can focus on providing healthy meals to help students learn and thrive; increases school meal participation by removing stigma; maximizes federal reimbursements; and makes it easier to implement innovative service models like Breakfast in the Classroom. Community eligibility is a win for everyone — administrators, students, families, and school nutrition staff.
One Pager: Take a Fresh Look at Community Eligibility
The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows more than 30,000 high-poverty schools across the country to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students while eliminating the traditional school meal application process. As COVID-19 impacts millions across the country, driving unemployment and lost wages, more students than ever will need access to free school meals. Click to learn more.
Report: More Low-Income Students Receive Free School Meals in the 2018–2019 School Year Through Community Eligibility
Community Eligibility: The Key to Hunger-Free Schools finds that the number of schools participating in community eligibility grew by 14 percent compared to the 2017–2018 school year, with 64.4 percent of eligible schools participating. Over 13.6 million children in 28,614 schools and 4,698 school districts are participating and have access to school breakfast and lunch at no charge.
QUICK FACTS: Community Eligibility in the 2018–2019 School Year
- There are 28,614 schools participating in 4,698 school districts.
- Over 13.6 million children are offered free breakfast and lunch at school through the Community Eligibility Provision.
- Overall school participation in community eligibility increased by 3,664 schools since the 2017–2018 school year.
Since the program became available nationwide in the 2014–2015 school year, community eligibility has continued to expand year over year as more schools learn about its many benefits. Still, there are many eligible schools that have not yet implemented the program and continued outreach and education and advocacy to overcome policy challenges can help ensure more high-poverty schools can participate.
Outreach Tools and Resources
Implications for Eliminating School Meals Applications
Federal agencies have provided guidance for community eligibility schools to access federal educational funding sources that traditionally relied on free and reduced-price school meal information, such as Title I or E-Rate. Often, states need to adjust policies to ensure community eligibility schools can access state education funding targeted to low-income students. Check out these resources to learn more:
Check out USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision Resource Center for webinars and other resources on community eligibility, including financial considerations, implementation strategies, outreach, and policy guidance.