Community Eligibility Option
Community Eligibility Option (CEO) is a new, innovative program that makes it easier for high need schools to serve free meals to all students by removing the need for schools to collect paper applications. Because implementing CEO means schools are serving universal free school breakfast, it is a great way to facilitate the adoption of innovative breakfast models, such as Breakfast in the Classroom. CEO will become a nationwide program for the 2014-15 school year and schools and nutrition advocates should work together to begin to plan how they will implement this option.
CEO has a number of benefits to students and schools. It will help schools reduce administrative costs related to collecting and processing applications and tracking students based on meal eligibility status. Schools will no longer have to collect payments or use swipe cards or other systems during the meal service. It also will help students because families no longer have to complete meal applications and it can reduce stigma because all students are eating meals at no cost, regardless of their income status.
According to data from the Food Research and Action Center, the first three CEO pilot states, Illinois, Michigan, and Kentucky, have already seen success with CEO; school breakfast participation in these three states saw increases larger than the national average in the 2011-12 school year. Breakfast participation among low-income children went up by 15.9 percent in IL, 8.4 percent in KY, and 13.1 percent in MI.
Background on Community Eligibility Option
Congress established CEO with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010. USDA is phasing in implementation of CEO over three years, beginning in July 2011, with the program becoming a nationwide option for the 2014-15 school year. Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan were the first three states to participate in July 2011 and New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia began implementation in July 2012. USDA added Maryland, Florida, Georgia, and Massachusetts for the 2013-14 school year.
How does Community Eligibility Option work?
CEO enables schools to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all students and eliminates the need for schools to collect paper applications by basing reimbursement levels on “identified students”. Identified students are either:
- Directly certified based on their household’s participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, or cash assistance), or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).
- Considered homeless, migrant, runaway, Head Start, or foster children.
Schools can be considered individually, as a group of schools within a district, or as a whole district. If they have 40 percent or more identified students in the previous year, it is eligible for CEO. Schools determine the reimbursement rates they can claim by multiplying the identified student percentage by 1.6. The resulting number, capped at 100%, is the percentage of total meals reimbursed at the “free” rate. The remainder are reimbursed at the “paid” rate.
For example, if Banneker Elementary School has 100 students and 50 are considered “identified students”, the identified student percentage is 50%. The school would then multiply 50 x 1.6 to yield a free reimbursement rate of 80 percent and a paid reimbursement rate of 20 percent. If Banneker Elementary served 1000 breakfasts in a month, 800 would be claimed for free reimbursement while 200 would be claimed for paid reimbursement.
If a school has 62.5% identified students, it reaches the threshold at which all meals can be claimed for free reimbursement, because 62.5 x 1.6 = 100.
The identified student percentage remains valid for up to four years, but schools can adjust if they have reason to believe that the identified student percentage has increased.
More Information and Resources
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities/Food Research and Action Center: Community Eligibility: Making High-Poverty Schools Hunger Free
- This report provides background on the first two years of CEO implementation and a guide to preparing for the national roll-out in 2014-15.
- This report provides background on improving direct certification as well as utilizing CEO.
- This brief provides a background on CEO and how it can help schools and students, work to increase breakfast participation, and impact school meals revenue. It also includes an FAQ and testimonials.
US Department of Education: Letter on CEO and Title I
- This letter provides guidance on how schools can implement CEO while also implementing Title I requirements.
Michigan Department of Education
- CEO Monthly Federal Reimbursement Calculator (.xls)
- Frequently Asked Questions on CEO
- Sample Letter to Households (.doc)
Illinois State Board of Education