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 Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)

With the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (Act), schools are able to take advantage of a new universal meal service option, the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which was phased in over several years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is now available nationwide. CEP permits eligible schools to provide meal service to all students at no charge, regardless of economic status, while reducing burden at the household and local levels by eliminating the need to obtain eligibility data from families through a separate collection.

Although the USDA, and not the U.S. Department of Education (US ED), administers the federal school meal programs, including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), there is a connection between CEP and programs operated under Title I, Part A (Title I) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (ESEA), because state educational agencies (SEAs) and local educational agencies (LEAs) often use NSLP data to carry out certain Title I requirements. 

CEP schools only use eligibility data that are not obtained through the use of an application, such as data from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, to determine the Federal cash reimbursement for school meals provided by USDA. They do not rely on annual household applications that are generally used to determine eligibility for free and reduced-price meals. A school may elect for CEP if at least 40-percent of its students are directly certified, or otherwise identified for free meals through means other than household applications (for example, students directly certified through SNAP).  To account for low-income families not reflected in the direct certification data, USDA sets meal reimbursement levels for CEP schools by multiplying the percentage of students identified through the direct certification data by a multiplier established in the Act (initially, the multiplier is 1.6).  Under CEP, schools must renew their direct certification numbers once every four years to maintain eligibility. However, schools may update their direct certification numbers annually to capture more current information.  If the most current data shows an increase in the percentage of enrolled students who are directly certified, the school may use that percentage for determining USDA reimbursement; if the data shows a decrease, the school may continue to use the original percentage for the remainder of the four-year eligibility period. 

Implementation of CEP began in the 2011–2012 school year in eligible LEAs and schools in Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan. In the 2012–2013 school year, USDA added the District of Columbia, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia to implement CEP. CEP became available in Maryland, Massachusetts, Florida, and Georgia in the 2013–2014 school year and is available in all States in the 2014–2015 school year.
As noted above, there is an intersection between CEP and Title I.  Under Section 1113 of the ESEA, an LEA must rank its school attendance areas or schools based on the percentage of economically disadvantaged students to determine a school’s eligibility to receive Title I funds, to allocate funds to selected schools, and to calculate the amount generated for Title I services to eligible private school students. In terms of accountability, each SEA and LEA that receives funding under Title I must assess and report annually on the extent to which economically disadvantaged students are making progress toward meeting state academic achievement standards in reading or language arts and mathematics.  Moreover, an LEA must hold schools accountable for the achievement of student subgroups, whether under section 1116 of the ESEA or under ESEA flexibility for those states with an approved ESEA flexibility request. To meet these requirements, an LEA must have school-level data on individual economically disadvantaged students.  For many LEAs, NSLP data are likely to be the best source to identify those students.