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Take Up of Community Eligibility This School Year

More Than 6 Million Children Have Better Access to School Meals

February 25, 2015
BY

Zoë Neuberger, Becca Segal, Catlin Nchako, and Kathleen Masterson

The National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs have long sought to ease the paperwork burdens of assessing and tracking family income in schools serving very high concentrations of poor and low-income children.  At those schools, little purpose is served in devoting resources to identifying the few children who don’t qualify for free or reduced-price meals. 

Congress created a new option to help support this goal, called the Community Eligibility Provision, in the 2010 reauthorization of the child nutrition programs.[1]  The option, which allows qualifying high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students without having to collect and process individual meal applications, became available on a nationwide basis for the first time this school year after being piloted in 11 states.[2] 

More than 14,000 high-poverty schools in more than 2,200 school districts across the country adopted community eligibility for the 2014-2015 school year.[3]  These schools, which serve more than 6 million children, represent roughly half of all eligible schools.[4]  As expected, take-up this year was higher among the highest-poverty schools, where nearly all children are already eligible for free or reduced-priced meals; in the 46 states for which data are available, 62 percent of the highest-poverty schools adopted community eligibility. 
Community eligibility not only reduces redundant paperwork at high-poverty schools but also makes possible huge gains in meeting vulnerable children’s nutritional needs by providing them with a healthy breakfast and lunch at school each day.  Reliable access to healthy meals, in turn, better prepares students to learn.  The popularity of community eligibility in its first year of nationwide implementation speaks to schools’ desire to improve access to healthy meals while reducing red tape, as well as to the option’s sound design.  And the fact that take-up rates have risen each year in states that piloted the option shows that many school districts that took a “wait and see” approach liked what they saw and signed up the next year.

Nevertheless, many eligible schools have not yet implemented community eligibility, and take-up varies substantially across states.  This report is designed to help state and local educators, school nutrition administrators, policymakers, and state and local anti-hunger groups identify eligible schools and districts that have not adopted the option but could benefit from it.  (Appendix 1 describes resources to support implementation of the option.)  The report assesses community eligibility take-up in each state for the 2014-2015 school year using three measures:

  • the share of eligible school districts adopting it;
  • the share of eligible schools adopting it; and
  • the share of the highest-poverty schools adopting it.

The report summarizes data gathered by CBPP from all state child nutrition programs (the data are summarized in Tables 1 and 2 and are available via a searchable database on our website).[5]  The data build on data collected by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the 2014-2015 school year.[6]  Our overall numbers of eligible and participating schools are very similar to USDA’s figures; minor differences largely reflect the fact that we collected data after USDA, when states had additional information (see Appendix 2).  Appendix 3 explains the data-collection process. 

How Does Community Eligibility Work?

Schools that participate in the school meal programs generally use a two-part process to determine which students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals: 

  • First, certain students are automatically enrolled for free meals through a process known as “direct certification.”  These especially vulnerable students are known as identified students because an appropriate official has identified them as being at risk of hunger due to their participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash assistance program, or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations or because they are homeless, migrant, runaway, in Head Start, or in foster care. 
  • Next, schools collect school meal applications from the remaining students in order to determine which students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals based on their household income.

Community eligibility simplifies the enrollment process for high-poverty schools by enabling them to do away with household meal applications — thereby eliminating a major administrative burden — and serve breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students.  Because these schools no longer have to collect school meal applications, determine and verify eligibility, and track eligibility whenever a meal is served, they can focus on education and providing two nutritious and appealing meals daily.[7]

A school’s eligibility for community eligibility is based on its Identified Student Percentage (ISP), which is determined by dividing its total number of identified students by its total enrollment. Schools with an ISP of 40 percent or greater can adopt community eligibility.  It is important to keep in mind that identified students are only a subset of those who would qualify for free or reduced-price meals if the school accepted meal applications; schools eligible for community eligibility typically have a much higher percentage of low-income students than their ISP.

School districts determine whether to adopt community eligibility and for which eligible schools.  Close to 3,000 districts are eligible for the option district-wide, and roughly another 3,000 are eligible for a subset of their schools.  Community eligibility was intended to serve high-poverty communities even if they are situated in districts that are not uniformly low-income; many districts have implemented the provision for some, but not all, eligible schools.

Under the school meal programs’ traditional reimbursement structure, school districts keep track of which students eat and whether they qualify for free, reduced-price, or paid meals.  School districts then receive a per-meal reimbursement, which is highest for free meals.  For schools implementing community eligibility, the reimbursements are based on the school’s ISP.  A school’s ISP is multiplied by 1.6 to approximate the share of students that would receive free or reduced-price meals if the school collected meal applications; the resulting percentage is the share of meals that are reimbursed at the highest (free) rate, while the remaining meals are reimbursed at the lowest (paid) rate.  (The 1.6 multiplier was derived from analyses indicating that for every ten students who were approved for free school meals without an application, six others were approved for free or reduced-price meals based on an application.)

The fact that schools with higher ISPs receive higher reimbursement rates makes it financially easier for them to implement community eligibility.  In fact, a school with an ISP of 62.5 percent or higher receives the highest federal reimbursement for all of its meals.  In schools with a lower ISP, administrative savings from eliminating applications and economies of scale for food procurement and labor often cover the cost of meals served to students who would otherwise pay.  But schools with ISPs just above 40 percent might need to provide non-federal resources if their federal reimbursements do not fully cover the cost of serving meals.  Because the financial viability of community eligibility depends on local costs and other local factors, the decision about whether to adopt the option rests with school districts.

What Share of Eligible School Districts Adopted Community Eligibility?

FIGURE 1
2-25-15coe-f1.png

Nationwide, 2,216 school districts — 32 percent of those eligible — are using the Community Eligibility Provision in some or all schools.[8]  The extent to which school districts adopted the option varied considerably across states.  In Arkansas, for example, only 1 percent of eligible school districts adopted it (2 out of 159), compared with 81 percent of eligible districts in Montana (39 out of 48).  The median state’s take-up rate for school districts was 34 percent.

Examining which districts have implemented community eligibility and why can help state educators and nutrition program administrators identify districts that could benefit from the option but have not yet tried it, and work with them to assess the feasibility of doing so.  It is important to keep in mind, however, that school districts vary tremendously in size.  For example, Wayne, Michigan’s Cesar Chavez Academy charter school with 59 students is a single school district, as is the Los Angeles Unified School District serving more than 650,000 students.  Similarly, North Dakota’s Fort Yates Public School district has just one eligible school, while Maryland’s Baltimore City Public Schools could adopt community eligibility for all 196 of its schools.  Program administrators and other stakeholders will likely consider these factors when developing training and education for eligible districts that have not yet adopted community eligibility.

As educators become more familiar with the Community Eligibility Provision, the share of eligible districts that participate will likely grow.  Figure 1 allows for a regional comparison of community eligibility take-up by school districts; Figure 2 shows the share of school districts in each state that adopted the option. 

FIGURE 2
2-25-15coe-f2.png

What Share of Eligible Schools Adopted Community Eligibility?

FIGURE 3
2-25-15coe-f3.png

Nationwide, 14,214 schools have adopted community eligibility for the current school year, roughly half (45 percent) of those eligible.[9]  These 14,214 schools serve 6,661,462 students.  (It is unclear what share this 6.7 million figure represents of the total number of children who could benefit from community eligibility, since data on the total number of students attending eligible schools are not available.)

The reach of community eligibility varies considerably across states, ranging from no schools in New Hampshire to nearly 1,500 schools serving more than 940,000 students in Texas.  The share of eligible schools adopting the option also varies, with a take-up rate of 42 percent in the median state and a high of 78 percent in Montana.  Figure 3 allows for a regional comparison of community eligibility take-up by schools; Figure 4 shows the share of schools in each state that adopted the option.

About two-thirds of the states have higher take-up rates among schools than districts.  This likely reflects greater interest in community eligibility among districts that can implement it in more schools; these districts, with larger shares of low-income students, may be more attuned to supporting these schools to meet their students’ needs.  Nonetheless, in 13 states the share of districts adopting community eligibility exceeds the share of schools.  This could occur when school districts with only a single school or a few schools adopt the provision, which is sometimes the case for charter schools.  Alternatively, it could reflect districts trying community eligibility in a small number of their eligible schools to see how it works.

FIGURE 4
2-25-15coe-f4.png

What Share of the Highest-Poverty Schools Adopted Community Eligibility?

Schools with ISPs of 60 percent or higher receive the highest federal reimbursement rate, making implementing the Community Eligibility Provision — for which all such schools qualify — financially easier.  Schools with ISPs this high serve an overwhelming majority of low-income students, especially since (as noted) identified students are only a subset of the students who would qualify for free or reduced-price meals if the school collected meal applications.  Implementing community eligibility in the highest-poverty schools ensures that nutritious meals reach the most vulnerable children.

Across the 46 states for which data were available, 11,171 of the eligible schools had ISPs of 60 percent or higher.[10]  Of these schools, 7,021 adopted it for the 2014-2015 school year, for a take-up rate of 63 percent — significantly higher than the take-up rates among all eligible schools and districts. 

In the median state, 65 percent of the highest-poverty schools participated, but the rate varied by state, from 100 percent in Wyoming (2 of 2 eligible schools), 94 percent in North Dakota (16 of 17 eligible schools), and 92 percent in Kentucky (320 of 349 eligible schools) down to 0 percent in New Hampshire (0 of 8 eligible schools) and Rhode Island (0 of 41 eligible schools).  The next section discusses some reasons for this variation.

FIGURE 5
2-25-15coe-f5.png

States approved to offer community eligibility before the nationwide rollout in 2014-15 had high take-up among the highest-poverty schools.  Five of those 11 states implemented the option in at least 80 percent of eligible schools with ISPs of 60 percent or higher:  the District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, and West Virginia.[11]  These early implementing states have had several years to educate districts about the option and school district administrators have had the opportunity to witness its benefits.  As additional states get beyond the first year of community eligibility implementation, take-up among the highest-poverty schools will likely increase.  Figure 5 allows for a regional comparison of community eligibility take-up by the highest-poverty schools; Figure 6 shows the share of the highest-poverty schools in each state that have adopted the option.

FIGURE 6
2-25-15coe-f6.png

What Can We Learn from These Take-Up Measures?

Detailed information about which eligible districts and schools have adopted community eligibility can help school meal administrators — and other stakeholders who would like schools in high-poverty communities to offer meals at no charge to all students — to educate school districts about the option.  This information can help identify barriers to participation and inform the development of more tailored training and outreach plans.  For example, if larger districts in a state have widely adopted community eligibility but smaller districts have not, state staff can reach out to smaller districts to learn about their concerns and work to address them.

Below are some observations about the data and likely explanations:

  • In some states, take-up is much higher on one measure than another.  For example, in Connecticut, only 30 percent of eligible school districts have adopted community eligibility, but 64 percent of eligible schools have.  This reflects the fact that the larger districts with concentrated poverty, including Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford, have all adopted community eligibility in some or all schools.  By working with districts that have smaller pockets of poverty affecting only a few schools, school meal administrators and advocates could help bring the benefits of community eligibility to poor students in smaller low-income neighborhoods.

    Alternatively, if a state has higher take-up among districts than schools, it could indicate that districts with larger concentrations of poverty are not participating.  In Florida, for example, 37 percent of eligible districts have implemented community eligibility, but only 26 percent of eligible schools.  The Dade County (Miami), Hillsborough County (Tampa), and Broward County (Fort Lauderdale) school districts have not yet adopted the provision.  These districts are among the nation’s seven largest and collectively serve more than 600,000 students; they include 537 schools that are eligible for community eligibility, of which 274 schools have ISPs of 60 percent or higher.  Stakeholders now have an opportunity to ascertain these districts’ concerns and potentially develop policy responses. 

  • While take-up is higher among the highest-poverty schools, a surprising number of these schools didn’t implement the option.  Because schools with higher ISPs receive higher federal reimbursements, it is not surprising that they generally are more likely to adopt community eligibility.  In Mississippi, for example, 70 percent of schools with ISPs of 60 percent or higher have adopted the option, compared to 48 percent of all eligible schools.  But in states where take-up is only modestly higher, if at all, among the highest-poverty schools — such as South Carolina, where take-up is 38 percent among all eligible schools and 49 percent among schools with ISPs of 60 percent or higher — it could be useful to make sure that the highest-poverty schools understand the community eligibility reimbursement structure and use USDA’s tool to estimate federal reimbursements under the provision.[12] 
  • States with very high take-up in their first year of implementation made a concerted effort to enroll eligible schools.  In Montana and Tennessee, for example, take-up is relatively high across all three measures (school districts, schools, and highest-poverty schools), reflecting supportive policies and concerted outreach efforts to eligible schools.  In Montana, all eligible school districts received a letter from the governor, lieutenant governor, superintendent of public schools, and first lady explaining community eligibility; a nonprofit followed up with each eligible district to make sure it had the information needed to decide whether to implement it.[13]  Because of this early effort, Montana and Tennessee can now focus on any remaining districts that could benefit from adopting the provision.  They can also share training materials, policies, and implementation strategies with states with lower take-up.  
FIGURE 7
2-25-15coe-f7.png
  • Take-up will likely grow over time.  The experience of the 11 states that were approved to offer community eligibility before the nationwide rollout is informative.  Take-up has expanded since the initial year as school administrators have learned from their peers about their positive experiences with community eligibility.  (See Figure 7.)
  • Low take-up in some states likely reflects state-specific barriers.In Arkansas, for example — where only two of the 159 eligible school districts have adopted community eligibility — it is extremely difficult for school districts to assess the financial implications of adopting it because the state uses data from school meal applications in allocating education funds among schools and has not yet set a policy for allocating funds to community eligibility schools.  (Many alternative distribution options are available to states.)[14]  Similarly, among the states that implemented community eligibility before the nationwide rollout, adoption has been substantially lower in two states (Maryland and Massachusetts) that have yet to set policies for allocating education funds to community eligibility schools.

Conclusion

Community eligibility helps ensure that low-income children who attend schools in high-poverty neighborhoods have access to breakfast and lunch each school day.  This is a concrete step that policymakers can take to reduce food insecurity and other poverty-related hardships among children in areas of concentrated poverty.  The fact that half of eligible schools have adopted community eligibility in its first year of nationwide implementation demonstrates its appeal.  As school districts better understand its administrative simplifications and benefits for our nation’s poorest students, more schools will likely adopt community eligibility. 

TABLE 1

Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Take-Up for School Year 2014-2015

 
School districts
Schools
 

State

Eligible
for CEP

Adopting
CEP

Percentage Adopting CEP of Total Eligible

Eligible
for CEP

Adopting
CEP

Percentage Adopting CEP of Total Eligible

Student Enrollment at Schools Adopting CEP

Alabama
122
31
25%
818
347
42%
180,789
Alaska
32
18
56%
168
123
73%
27,666
Arizona
91
29
32%
237
73
31%
30,763
Arkansas
159
2
1%
401
4
1%
791
California
280
28
10%
1,106
208
19%
113,513
Colorado
59
8
14%
236
34
14%
12,455
Connecticut
27
8
30%
208
133
64%
66,524
Delaware
31
23
74%
128
96
75%
47,013
District of Columbia
45
33
73%
168
125
74%
44,485
Florida
167
61
37%
2,070
548
26%
274,071
Georgia
136
72
53%
1,075
589
55%
354,038
Hawaii
12
6
50%
81
6
7%
2,640
Idaho
59
12
20%
179
50
28%
18,828
Illinoisa
445
131
29%
1,877
1,041
55%
552,751
Indianab
103
30
29%
447
214
48%
96,604
Iowa
67
13
19%
234
78
33%
32,103
Kansas
64
5
8%
258
18
7%
5,992
Kentucky
166
104
63%
889
611
69%
279,144
Louisiana
101
44
44%
897
335
37%
146,141
Mainec
NA
7
NA
NA
21
NA
5,284
Maryland
32
5
16%
396
25
6%
7,624
Massachusetts
141
22
16%
729
294
40%
134,071
Michigan
337
182
54%
1,018
625
61%
266,249
Minnesota
183
35
19%
358
56
16%
20,688
Mississippi
120
42
35%
539
257
48%
136,095
Missouri
228
75
33%
695
298
43%
106,126
Montana
48
39
81%
119
93
78%
15,802
Nebraska
29
1
3%
95
2
2%
180
Nevada
10
3
30%
158
13
8%
7,917
New Hampshire
24
0
0%
53
0
0%
0
New Jersey
159
28
18%
570
197
35%
99,840
New Mexico
104
53
51%
551
343
62%
119,300
New Yorkd
602
138
23%
2,252
1,246
55%
505,859
North Carolina
135
54
40%
1,341
648
48%
310,850
North Dakota
25
16
64%
36
23
64%
5,284
Ohioa,c
NA
230
NA
NA
739
NA
305,451
Oklahomac
NA
18
NA
NA
100
NA
43,433
Oregon
139
51
37%
675
262
39%
103,601
Pennsylvania
259
94
36%
1,036
646
62%
327,573
Rhode Island
14
1
7%
98
1
1%
838
South Carolina
80
33
41%
588
226
38%
111,453
South Dakota
60
23
38%
231
142
61%
13,056
Tennessee
157
86
55%
1,205
862
72%
417,165
Texas
589
143
24%
3,591
1,477
41%
941,262
Utah
22
5
23%
68
22
32%
7,019
Vermont
30
11
37%
64
32
50%
7,386
Virginia
90
12
13%
444
87
20%
42,911
Washington
81
33
41%
393
122
31%
53,369
West Virginia
54
39
72%
475
369
78%
124,978
Wisconsin
215
76
35%
688
348
51%
133,232
Wyoming
5
3
60%
9
5
56%
1,255
Totalsc
6,138
2,216
32%
30,812
14,214
45%
6,661,462
a. Illinois and Ohio did not provide CEP student enrollment data directly to CBPP.  This table includes the student enrollment data published by USDA at http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/cn/state-cep-election-data.pdf

b. Indiana did not have Identified Student Percentage data on 100 schools; those schools are not included in this table.

c. Maine, Ohio, and Oklahoma did not publish a list of eligible schools.  The total number of eligible schools includes the number of schools that adopted community eligibility, but not the full universe of eligible schools.  The national percentages of districts and schools adopting CEP exclude Maine, Ohio, and Oklahoma.

d. In New York, in some instances multiple groups of students that are co-located in a single building are counted as separate CEP sites because they participate in separate educational programs.

Source:  CBPP analysis of data on eligible schools and districts published by state child nutrition agencies in May 2014 and data on schools and districts adopting CEP collected directly from state child nutrition agencies from September 2014 through January 2015.  All schools and districts that adopted CEP are counted as eligible even if they were not included on the published state list.  School districts may have had more recent or complete data on which eligibility was based or additional schools may participate as part of an eligible group.

TABLE 2

Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Take-Up for School Year 2014-2015

 
Schools with 60% or higher Identified Student Percentage (ISP)

State

Eligible
for CEP

Adopting
CEP

Percentage Adopting CEP of Total Eligible

Alabama
364
234
64%
Alaska
82
65
79%
Arizona
49
37
76%
Arkansas
96
3
3%
California
91
17
19%
Colorado
37
4
11%
Connecticut
83
71
86%
Delaware
48
41
85%
District of Columbia
73
63
86%
Florida
1,033
423
41%
Georgia
379
338
89%
Hawaii
22
2
9%
Idaho
22
10
45%
Illinoisa
NA
NA
NA
Indianab
170
123
72%
Iowac
71
46
65%
Kansas
65
13
20%
Kentucky
349
320
92%
Louisianad
456
225
49%
Mainea
NA
1
NA
Maryland
176
13
7%
Massachusetts
414
207
50%
Michigan
493
444
90%
Minnesota
202
44
22%
Mississippi
246
173
70%
Missouri
277
181
65%
Montana
33
30
91%
Nebraska
27
2
7%
Nevada
21
10
48%
New Hampshire
8
0
0%
New Jersey
180
119
66%
New Mexico
254
188
74%
New Yorke
1,301
867
67%
North Carolina
488
330
68%
North Dakota
17
16
94%
Ohioa
NA
NA
NA
Oklahomaa
NA
NA
NA
Oregon
223
114
51%
Pennsylvania
538
430
80%
Rhode Island
41
0
0%
South Carolina
250
122
49%
South Dakotaa
NA
NA
NA
Tennessee
507
442
87%
Texas
1,277
778
61%
Utah

16

9

56%

Vermont

16

11

69%

Virginia

120

53

44%

Washington

141

69

49%

West Virginia

63

54

86%

Wisconsin

349

277

79%

Wyoming

2

2

100%

Totalsa

11,171

7,021

63%

a. The national percentage of schools with ISPs of 60 percent or higher adopting CEP excludes the five states for which school ISP categories could not be determined – Illinois, Maine, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.  Maine did not publish a list of eligible schools.  The total number of schools eligible for CEP with ISPs of 60 percent of higher does not include the full universe of eligible schools; it includes a school in Maine with an ISP of 60 percent or higher that adopted community eligibility.  

b. Indiana did not have ISP data on 100 schools; those schools are not included in this table.

c. Iowa did not have ISP data on 10 schools; those schools are not included in this table.

d. The number of eligible schools with ISPs of 60 percent or higher for Louisiana may be undercounted, as there are 17 CEP-eligible schools for which ISP data are unknown.

e. In New York, in some instances multiple groups of students that are co-located in a single building are counted as separate CEP sites because they participate in separate educational programs.

Source:  CBPP analysis of data on eligible schools and LEAs published by state child nutrition agencies in May 2014 and data on schools and LEAs adopting CEP collected directly from state child nutrition agencies from September 2014 through January 2015.  All schools and LEAs that adopted CEP are counted as eligible even if they were not included on the published state list.  LEAs may have had more recent or complete data on which eligibility was based or additional schools may participate as part of an eligible group.

Appendix 1:  Resources to Support Community Eligibility Implementation

CBPP has worked closely with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) to monitor implementation of community eligibility and develop resources to support states and school districts as they consider adopting it.  FRAC’s community eligibility website includes resources explaining all facets of community eligibility, including state resources.[15]  USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service website also has useful materials and resources.[16]

There are many ways to engage policymakers around community eligibility.  At the state and local level, school nutrition staff can work closely with staff from other programs that use data from school meal applications to develop policies that will allow high-poverty schools to adopt community eligibility without jeopardizing other important resources. 

CBPP and FRAC’s recent guide for state and local anti-hunger and education advocates outlines key steps they can take this spring to ensure that high-poverty schools have the information needed to consider community eligibility.[17]  Additional CBPP resources, some jointly published with FRAC, are available on CBPP’s website.[18]  Resources that are especially helpful to school districts considering community eligibility and stakeholders working with districts include:

Appendix 2: How Does the Information in This Report Compare to USDA’s Data?

In December 2014, USDA published state-by-state data on how many school districts and schools adopted community eligibility for the 2014-2015 school year, as well as the number of students attending those schools.[19]  USDA’s data and the data presented in this report are extremely similar; differences between the two reflect the following factors:

  • USDA collected data as of September 1, 2014, while CBPP began collecting data on September 11, 2014 and continued collecting data from some states through January 2015. 
  • USDA and CBPP used different methodologies to assess the universe of eligible schools, resulting in slightly different nationwide take-up rates.  USDA relied exclusively on lists of eligible districts and schools published in May 2014; CBPP also included schools that were not on those lists but have adopted community eligibility.  (See Appendix 3 for the circumstances in which a school not on the original list could adopt community eligibility.)  When we calculated the take-up rate using the USDA methodology, the result was a 50.4 percent take-up rate nationwide, consistent with USDA’s published rate of 51.5 percent.  (The slight difference reflects the different time periods for collecting take-up data.)

Appendix 3:  Data Collection and Analysis

CBPP collected information on schools that have adopted community eligibility — specifically, the school’s name, ISP, and enrollment — directly from state nutrition directors between September 2014 and January 2015.  We relied on the most recent data provided by each state. 

Under federal law, states were required to publish, by May 1, 2014, a list of schools and districts with ISPs of at least 40 percent and those with ISPs between 30 and 40 percent (near-eligible schools and districts).  The universe of eligible schools and districts to which we compared participating schools is primarily based on those published lists.  We treated a district as eligible if it contained at least one eligible school.  We treated a school as eligible if it appeared on a state’s published list of eligible schools or if it adopted community eligibility.

There are two circumstances under which a school might be able to adopt community eligibility even if it did not appear on a state’s list of eligible schools. 

  • Schools can participate individually or as a group.  A group’s eligibility is based on the ISP for the group as a whole; a group may contain schools that would not qualify individually. 
  • USDA permitted states to base their published lists on proxy data readily available to them.  Proxy data are merely an indicator of potential eligibility, not the basis for eligibility.  Districts must submit more accurate information, which may be more complete and/or more recent, when applying to adopt community eligibility.

Not all states published or provided ISPs.  For states that didn’t, we did not calculate the share of schools with ISPs of 60 percent or higher that have adopted community eligibility. 

We also asked state nutrition directors to indicate, when possible, whether a district elected to adopt community eligibility partially or district-wide.  Not every state provided this information, but in some cases, state nutrition directors also provided data on groupings within districts.

Data on groups varied among states, and we handled groups differently depending on the information that state nutrition directors provided.  Some states provided no school-level data for individual schools in a group, while other states provided both group-level and school-level data. We used school-level data whenever possible but group-level data if that was all that was available.

End notes:

[1] For a comprehensive explanation of community eligibility and analysis of its implementation in the first two years, see Madeleine Levin and Zoë Neuberger, “Community Eligibility:  Making High-Poverty Schools Hunger-Free,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Food Research and Action Center, October 1, 2013, file type icon http://www.cbpp.org/files/10-1-13fa.pdf .

[2] The 11 states are the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia.  (The District of Columbia is considered a state for purposes of this report.)

[3] This paper uses the term “school districts” to refer to Local Educational Agencies.

[4] Under federal law, states were required to publish a list of schools that were eligible for the Community Eligibility Provision.  Based on those lists, more than 28,000 schools were eligible.  Because states were permitted to use proxy data that misses some eligible schools, the number of eligible schools was likely higher.  (See Zoë Neuberger, Rebecca Segal, and Mona Hussein, “More Than 28,000 Schools Can Become Hunger Free,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, updated July 25, 2014, http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4144.)  Data on the number of students attending the eligible schools are not available.

[5] The database is available at http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=4187.

[6] USDA’s press release is at http://www.fns.usda.gov/pressrelease/2014/fns-001314; its state-by-state table is at http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/cn/state-cep-election-data.pdf.

[7] A more detailed explanation of how community eligibility works can be found in Levin and Neuberger, pp. 7-11.

[8] Under federal law, states were required to publish a list of school districts that were eligible for the Community Eligibility Provision district-wide, as well as a list of individual schools that were eligible.  Links to each state’s lists can be found at http://www.cbpp.org/research/index.cfm?fa=topic&id=112.  To determine the universe of eligible districts, this analysis includes all districts with at least one eligible school.  It includes districts with schools that adopted community eligibility even if the district did not appear on the original list because in some instances the published lists were based on “proxy data” available to state rather than the actual school district data that are the basis for approving districts.  For more information on requirements related to the published lists, see http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/SP32-2014os.pdf.

[9] States were required to publish a list of schools that were eligible for the Community Eligibility Provision.  Links to each state’s lists can be found at http://www.cbpp.org/research/index.cfm?fa=topic&id=112.  To determine the universe of eligible schools, this analysis includes schools that adopted community eligibility even if the school did not appear on the original list because in some instances the published lists were based on “proxy data” available to state rather than the actual school district data that is the basis for approving districts and schools.

[10] CBPP obtained ISPs for 46 states from the lists of eligible schools published by states in May 2014 or directly from state school nutrition administrators. 

[11] Data on which schools have an ISP of 60 percent or higher are not available for Illinois or Ohio.

[12] USDA’s estimator tool is available at http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/cn/SP15-2013a2updated2.xls.

[13] The Montana letters are available at http://frac.org/pdf/MT_CEP_Chaser_Letter_40-62_5_percent.pdf and http://frac.org/pdf/MT_CEP_Chaser_Letter_62_5percent.pdf.  The text differs slightly depending on the district’s ISP.

[14] Alternatives to income data from school meal applications are discussed in Jessie Hewins et al., “The Community Eligibility Provision: Alternatives to School Meal Applications,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Food Research and Action Center, June 19, 2014, http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4155

[15] See http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/national-school-lunch-program/community-eligibility/.

[16] See http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/community-eligibility-provision.

[17] See http://www.cbpp.org/files/2-20-15fa.pdf.

[18] See www.cbpp.org/childnutrition.

[19] USDA’s press release is at http://www.fns.usda.gov/pressrelease/2014/fns-001314; its state-by-state table is at http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/cn/state-cep-election-data.pdf.