The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows high-poverty schools and districts to provide breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. Community eligibility reduces administrative paperwork and costs for; increases school meal participation; eliminates stigma; maximizes federal reimbursements; and makes it easier to implement Breakfast in the Classroom and other innovative breakfast models. Community eligibility is a win for everyone — administrators, students, families, and school nutrition staff.
Participation in community eligibility has grown each year as more schools learn about its many benefits. In the 2019-2020 school year:
- 30,667 schools in 5,133 school districts participated.
- Over 14.9 million children attended community eligibility schools.
- School participation increased by 1,910 schools from the prior school year.
FRAC’s Community Eligibility Grouping Tool and Financial Calculators
Still, many eligible schools have not yet implemented community eligibility and should consider it for the coming school year.
- What is Community Eligibility, and how does it work?Community eligibility allows high-need schools to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge. Any school district, group of schools in a district, or school with 40 percent or more “identified students” – children who are certified eligible for free school meals without a household application – can choose to participate.
Identified students include children directly certified through data-matching because their households receive the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or the Food Distribution Program for Indian Reservations (FDPIR), and in some states, Medicaid benefits, as well as children who are certified for free meals without an application because they are homeless, migrant, enrolled in Head Start, or in foster care.
Because school districts and schools participating in community eligibility use direct certification to determine their identified student percentage (ISP), they no longer have to collect meal applications each year from students and families to provide free meals to all students.
- FRAC’s 2020-2021 Community Eligibility DatabaseTo find out which schools and districts participate and qualify for community eligibility in your area, see FRAC’s Community Eligibility Database.
- Benefits of Community Eligibility
- Less administrative work—schools no longer have to collect and verify school meal applications.
- Increased Participation— schools in the initial pilot states increased breakfast participation by 9.4 percent and lunch participation by 5.2 percent according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study.
- Facilitates implementation of innovative breakfast service models—since schools don’t have to collect school meal fees or count each meal served by fee category, it is easier to implement of breakfast in the classroom and “grab and go” service models that can boost breakfast participation further.
- Improves the financial viability of school nutrition programs—when participation increases, school districts can take advantage of economies of scale, and reinvest any additional revenue to improve nutritional quality and provide staff training.
- Eliminates unpaid meal fees—when all children eat at no charge, the school district does not have to collect unpaid fees from families.
- Making Community Eligibility a Reality for Your DistrictThe ISP is multiplied by 1.6 to determine the percent of meals reimbursed at the free rate. The remaining meals are be reimbursed at the paid rate. For example, schools with an ISP of 50 percent will have 80 percent of their breakfasts and lunches reimbursed at the free rate, and 20 percent at the paid rate. Those with an ISP of 62.5 percent or higher will receive the free rate for 100 percent of their meals served.
Thousands of schools across the country with an ISP below 62.5 have implemented community eligibility successfully. Below resources to help school districts determine if community eligibility is a viable option.
- Implications for Eliminating School Meals ApplicationsTo support community eligibility implementation, federal agencies have provided guidance for federal educational funding sources that traditionally relied on free and reduced-price school meal information, such as Title I or E-Rate. Some states base their education funding on free and reduced-price eligibility, which requires schools in those states to collect an alternative income form from the students who are not certified for free school meals without an application. Check out these resources to learn more:
- Understanding the Relationship Between Community Eligibility and Title I Funding
- Summary of State Education Funding Policies (pdf)
- The Community Eligibility Provision: Alternatives to School Meal Applications
- US Department of Education Title I Guidance for Community Eligibility Schools
- Federal Communications Commission E-Rate Guidance for Community Eligibility Schools
- Outreach Resources for Community EligibilityFRAC’s communications resources can help advocates get the word out to districts and parents about the benefits of community eligibility.
- FRAC's Community Eligibility ReportRead our report “Community Eligibility: The Key to Hunger-Free Schools, School Year 2019–2020.”
- USDA Community Eligibility ResourcesCheck out USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision Resource Center for webinars and additional resources on community eligibility.
- FRAC Community Eligibility Webinars