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Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)
students eating in the cafeteria

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a special school meal funding option of the National School Lunch Act that enables schools to provide free meals to all students. Just like textbooks and desks, under CEP, school meals are available to all students at no cost to them.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a special school meal funding option of the National School Lunch Act that enables schools to provide free meals to all students. Just like textbooks and desks, under CEP, school meals are available to all students at no cost to them.

CEP benefits students and schools. Kids get free meals, and when a child’s nutritional needs are met, the child is more attentive in class and has better attendance and fewer disciplinary problems. Families with tight food budgets can rest assured that their child is getting two nutritious meals at school, reducing financial strain at home. CEP promotes equity by eliminating the out-of-pocket costs for families and by reducing stigma for school meals programs.

CEP is good for schools, too. It reduces administrative burden by eliminating school meals applications, counting and claiming by fee category, and unpaid meal charges. That's right - no unpaid meal charges under CEP! School nutrition staff are able to streamline meal service, making it easier to implement innovative service models, like meals in the classroom. These benefits taken together often result in CEP generating revenue for school nutrition budgets - CEP schools eliminate many overhead costs, eliminate school meal debt, and increase participation. Moreover, CEP is a 4-year cycle, meaning that adopting CEP this year can help a school's nutrition budget recover post-pandemic.

In some states, alternative income forms are collected to replace the lost data from school meals applications. Learn more about alternative income forms in No Kid Hungry's new resource, Alternative Income Forms: Understanding What They Are, Why They're Important, & How They Are Collected

As schools transition out of pandemic operations, CEP can help your school continue feeding all students at no cost.

Want to learn more? Check out these five short (10-15 minute) videos on the most important aspects of CEP


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Which schools are eligible to operate CEP?
principal hugging students

Schools where at least 40% of students are directly certified for free school meals.

To be eligible to operate CEP, an individual school or group of schools must have an “identified student percentage” (ISP) of at least 40%. The ISP is the percentage of the student body automatically certified for free school meals due to their participation in certain federal benefits programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). These students are identified through a process known as "direct certification."

To calculate ISP, a school must count all of the students who are categorically eligible for free school meals and divide by total student enrollment. Students are considered categorically eligible if they are:

  • Enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), Medicaid*, or if they live in a household where another student is enrolled in one of these programs (this is referred to as ‘extended eligibility’ or a ‘sibling match’ as outlined below).
  • Homeless, migrant, runaway, in foster care, or enrolled in Head Start or Early Head Start. (Note that these categories do not confer eligibility to other students in the household.)

Because the ISP does not account for low-income students who are not participating in programs like SNAP, a 1.6 multiplier is applied to the ISP to determine the reimbursement rate for meals served, and to serve as a more accurate proxy for the percentage of low-income students in our schools.

ISP = Identified Students / Total Enrollment * 100

FRAC's Community Eligibility Database includes data on each school's ISP and enrollment. This information is posted on each state agency website, as well, for the schools in those states.


*The following states use Medicaid data to determine categorical eligibility for free school meals: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.


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How are meals reimbursed under CEP if they are served to students at no cost?
Cafeteria staff at lunchtime

A more streamlined approach to counting and claiming meals.

Under CEP, all meals are served to students at no cost to them. Meals are still reimbursed by the USDA and state agencies, but CEP schools use a more streamlined approach to counting and claiming. Check out No Kid Hungry's CEP Meal Claiming 101 for a deeper dive into counting and claiming and point-of-service changes. 

CEP schools count and claim the total number of reimbursable meals served to students at each meal service (breakfast, lunch, etc.) and then receive reimbursement for those meals at rates determined by the ISP.  A percentage of the total meals served are reimbursed at the "free rate" for that meal type (ISP*1.6), and a percentage of the meals served will be reimbursed at the "paid rate" for that meal type (100 - ISP*1.6). Under CEP, there is no "reduced-price" rate for meals served.

For example, if a CEP school with an ISP of 55% serves 100 breakfasts, it will receive the maximum reimbursement for 88% of those meals, and the remainder, 12%, will be reimbursed at the "paid" rate for breakfast. The "free rate" for a lunch was about $3.50 in SY19-20, and the paid rate was about $0.41. View the federal reimbursement rates for each meal type and fee category here. Note that some states provide additional supplemental funding for school meals.

The chart below gives more examples of reimbursement rates at different ISPs.


x 1.6 Multiplier

% of Meals Reimbursed at "Free" Rate

% of Meals Reimbursed at "Paid" Rate


























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Can a single school adopt CEP, or does the whole district have to?
student eating breakfast in the classroom

Districts can adopt CEP in one school, a group of schools, or district-wide.

To be eligible to operate CEP, an individual school or group of schools must have an “identified student percentage” (ISP) of at least 40%. This 40% threshold may be met by:

  • an individual school,
  • a group or groups of schools within the district, or
  • all schools in the district.

Schools can maximize their reimbursement by testing different grouping scenarios. When grouping schools together, the group ISP is determined by dividing the total number of identified students for the group by the total student enrollment for the group. (A group's ISP isnot calculated by taking the average of the ISPs for each school.) Grouping high ISP, high enrollment schools with lower ISP, lower enrollment schools can help maximize participation and reimbursement.

Below is an example grouping scenario for a district that is partially implementing CEP. Three schools (A, B, and C) are adopting together as a group, one school (D) is adopting alone, and one school (E) is not adopting.


Identified Students



% of meals claimed at federal free rate

% of meals claimed at federal paid rate

School A






School B






School C












School D (adopting CEP but claiming on its own)






School E (not adopting CEP)







Check out Identified Student Percentage (ISP) Management: Increasing and Maximizing Your District's ISP to learn how your district can leverage grouping to maximize reimbursement and school participation in CEP. It also provides links to free, online grouping tools to help you determine the optimal grouping scenarios for your district.


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How can a school get started with CEP?
Girl eating breakfast at school

Annual election deadlines and information for promoting CEP adoption in your state.

Each year, a school district has until June 30 to declare their intent to implement CEP for the upcoming school year. To declare intent to implement CEP in a school or group of schools, a district's school nutrition director must notify their state agency by June 30. Check with your state agency on the process in your state.

Due to COVID-19, the deadline to elect CEP has been extended to August 31, 2020. Please check with your state agency to confirm.


Promoting CEP Adoption in Your State

To ensure widespread and effective adoption of CEP in your state, you can:

  • Spread the word. Many schools are not aware of CEP and its benefits, especially those newly eligible due to COVID-19. Send a letter to the editor, use social media or encourage your governor or state agency officials to publicize CEP.
  • Identify eligible schools. States are required to post lists of eligible schools and districts on their websites. Use this searchable database to find eligible schools in your state.
  • Encourage eligible schools to participate. Work with relevant decision makers, such as administrators, school board members, school food service staff and others.

Schools that implement CEP often become advocates for it; it’s an effective way to increase participation. Check out this guide for advocates to promote community eligibility and learn how to effectively advocate for CEP advocate.


breakfast cafeteria staff

CEP Talking Points for School Administrators

Prepare for conversations with school administrators about adopting or expanding CEP in the coming school year

Engaging Stakeholders
Implementation Support
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School Nutrition Staff