The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a meal reimbursement option allowing individual schools or school districts with high student eligibility for free or reduced price meals to serve breakfast and lunch to all enrolled students at no charge, regardless of economic status. By eliminating the need for household applications (instead formula-based), CEP streamlines the mechanism for students to qualify, decreasing school administrative processing, increasing meal participation and removing the stigma associated with eating school provided meals. Additionally, CEP can help improve the financial viability of your school nutrition programs with more participation, eliminating unpaid meal fees and moving students through the service line faster with no payment required.
CEP eligibility and Meal Reimbursement
To be eligible, Local Education Agency’s (LEAs) can implement CEP in individual schools, groups of schools, or entire districts. To qualify for CEP, the “identified student percentage” (ISP) for free meals in the year prior to implementing CEP must be at least 40% of enrollment. Schools must agree to serve all students free breakfasts and lunches and cover the meal costs above the amounts provided by Federal assistance (using non-Federal funds). Meals are reimbursed at either a “free” or “paid” rate; there is no longer a “reduced” category with CEP. USDA Food and Nutrition Services provides information and a tool to help assess and estimate federal meal reimbursement when considering CEP for your programs.
CEP does not impact district level Title I funding allocations, however it may impact school level Title I funding allocations. To allocate Title I funds on an equitable basis, the LEA must have a common poverty metric to rank order its schools. In a Q&A resource document published by the U.S. Department of Education, the recommended approach for an LEA is to apply a 1.6 multiplier to the number of CEP and non-CEP schools who are directly certified through SNAP (other direct certification measure available annually). Some of the benefits for using this approach include:
- More of an LEA’s schools may be eligible for Title I using this approach than with direct certification alone and, as a result,
- An LEA may be able to more closely approximate the number of schools that would have been eligible if the LEA had used a combination of direct certification data and household applications.
In this same reference, the Department provides detailed examples of approaches for funding allocations available on USDA Memo SP35-2015 (reference page 9).
Immediate Next Steps
If you are considering CEP, you are encouraged to contact your State Agency to discuss impact on state funding. As a leader in offering quality foodservice programs in schools, Sodexo can also work with your district to determine whether CEP is right for your schools. Together we can analyze student eligibility data, existing and potential meal participation, as well as the pros and cons of moving a school to CEP. Timing is critical. Interested and eligible LEAs must notify their State agency of their intent to elect CEP no later than June 30, possibly sooner in some states. Contact us to discuss options for your district.