Friday, July 25, 2014
This fall marks the opening of a nationwide opportunity to provide free breakfasts and lunches to K-12 students under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) plan. The CEP plan has been phased in select areas since the 2011-12 school year, but is available to all states this academic year. An important issue for school districts (and one reason why some districts were cautious about participating in the CEP plan), is how they will show eligibility for Title I funds if they no longer have the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) applications to show income levels. The USDA and the Education Department recognized these concerns in a January 2014 guidance document, noting that local governments (and researchers) use the percentage of “economically disadvantaged students to show a school’s eligibility to receive Title I funds, to allocate funds to selected schools, and to calculate the amount generated for Title I services to eligible private school students.” The ED’s January 2014 guidance suggested a couple of alternatives, including multiplying the number of students identified by direct certification programs school by 1.6 or for a district to rank all of its schools on the percentage of students directly certified through SNAP (or another direct certification measure available annually) in both Community Eligibility and non-Community Eligibility schools. The CEP alternative plan grew out of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 and the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to provide free meals in high poverty local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools. The USDA hopes to provide an alternative to the need for local school districts to obtain eligibility data from families through a separate collection or making parents apply for free or reduced price meals. Instead, districts may use "direct certification" data (the percentage of families in a district using needs-based programs -- such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program) to determine the federal cash reimbursement for school lunches provided by the USDA.