Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

More Than Half of High-Poverty Schools Now Offer Free Meals to all Students

Press Release
Release No.
FNS 0013.14
Contact: FNS Press Team

Fresno, CA, Dec. 9, 2014 - Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon today announced that more than half of the nation’s high-poverty schools are now offering breakfasts and lunches to students at no cost through the new Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), made possible by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The provision improves access to nutritious meals for low-income students while reducing administrative burdens for households and schools.

“This initiative reduces hunger among children in high-poverty areas, and ensures students have access to the healthy food they need to succeed in school,” Concannon said during a visit to Fresno’s Edison Computech Middle School. “USDA is encouraged by the initial response of eligible schools and districts during this first year of nationwide implementation.”

The provision provides an alternative to household applications for free and reduced price meals and reduces the burden of collecting funds and maintaining accounts for the few students who pay for school meals. To qualify, schools or districts must have at least 40 percent of the total student enrollment directly certified for free meals, based on their participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or other means-tested assistance programs. Meal costs are shared between the federal government and the school or district.

In school year 2014-15, the first year of national implementation, 51.5 percent of eligible schools are participating in CEP . This means that nearly 14,000 schools in more than 2,000 school districts across the country are offering nutritious meals at no cost to more than 6.4 million students. In addition, 70 percent of school districts opting for CEP have elected to implement the provision district-wide.

Across the country, schools and districts of all sizes that have implemented CEP are seeing increased participation in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, and are serving more meals than in previous years. Some school districts have seen participation increase by as much as 37 percent. So far this year, the Fresno Unified School District has seen a 4 percent increase in meals served to nearly 71,000 students.

“This is a strong first step, but we know there are still many eligible schools that can benefit from CEP,” Concannon said. “We continue to work with our national, state, and local partners to ensure that non-participating schools know of the benefits that CEP can provide to their communities.”

CEP was phased-in over a three-year period, starting in School Year 2011-12 in school districts across the country, including Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. The provision became available to eligible schools and districts nationwide beginning July 1, 2014. Districts now have until June 30 each year to elect to participate in CEP for some of all of their schools during the following school year. For more information on CEP, please visit:

Page updated: May 08, 2023