Eligible schools can offer free meals to all students through the Community Eligibility Provision

A chart showing share of eligible school districts using CEP in at least one school, by school year

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of USDA’s National School Lunch Program allows eligible schools in high poverty areas to offer USDA school meals at no charge to all students. CEP reduces the administrative burden associated with collecting paper applications and meal payments from students. Eligibility to use CEP is based on the share of students participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or other specific income-based assistance programs—known as the Identified Student Percentage (ISP). Schools are eligible to use CEP if the ISP for the school, group of schools, or district is at least 40 percent. USDA reimburses schools for meals according to a formula based on the ISP. Following a 3-year phase-in during which CEP was only available in a limited number of States, the provision was offered to all eligible school districts in the 2014-15 school year. Thirty-two percent of eligible districts used CEP in at least one of their schools in 2014-15, 37 percent in 2015-16, and 47 percent in 2016-17. A recent ERS study found that use of CEP was generally higher for poorer districts, districts in States that were part of the phase-in period, and schools in the Southeast. The data for this chart are from the ERS report, Characteristics of School Districts Offering Free School Meals to All Students Through the Community Eligibility Provision of the National School Lunch Program, released on August 28, 2018.

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