Community Eligibility Provision

During an academic year, 30 million students eat school lunch served through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and 14.8 million students have breakfast via the School Breakfast Program. Most of these meals are served at free or reduced prices, targeting benefits to children at greater risk for food insecurity and poor diet. All school meals meet USDA nutrition standards that ensure children’s access to nutritious foods during the school day. Participation in the NSLP has been linked to improvements in children‘s dietary intake and health, with most significant gains among nutritionally-disadvantaged low-income children. There is also increasing evidence on the important role of diet in impacting academic achievement, school attendance, long-life income and health, so that the effects of school nutrition changes are likely to extend far beyond dietary outcomes.

In 2010, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) initiated a number of major changes in child nutrition programs, including the establishment of Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Launched as a pilot in school year (SY) 2011/12 and implemented nationwide in SY 2014/15, CEP was intended to increase school meal participation and improve food security among children in low-resource communities.

CEP allowed the provision of universal free meals in high poverty schools (i.e.,>=40% of children eligible for free or reduced price meals) without collecting household applications. Through the elimination of the household application process and streamlining meal counts and claiming procedures, local school districts could substantially reduce the administrative burden and costs. Recent data suggest that more than half of eligible schools chose to participate in CEP, which significantly expanded access to free nutritious school meals. As nutrition is one potential mechanism to explain well-known socio-economic disparities in both health and education, better nutrition through CEP has the potential to improve health and academic outcomes in vulnerable children.

Evaluations of CEP’s impact on children’s diet, health and academic outcomes are just beginning to emerge. Most of prior literature focused on the effect of CEP on school meal participation and student academic achievement, finding a positive effect for both outcomes. Several studies examined the impact of CEP on children’s weight outcomes suggesting mixed results. It is yet unknown whether CEP implementation has translated into measurable nutrition and health gains for children and how these gains are distributed across population sub-groups. No data is currently available at the national level for any of these outcomes. The Rudd Center is conducting a study to provide a comprehensive, nationwide assessment of the multiple impacts that CEP has brought to low-resource communities.

View more information about the study below.