During the 2021-22 academic year, 16.2 million students attended a school that has adopted the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a 1.5% increase over the previous school year, according to a new report released by the Food Research and Action Center.
The report also revealed 5,543 districts have one or more schools participating in CEP, an increase of 35 districts, or 0.6%, compared to the 2020-2021 school year. The FRAC says the small increase may be due to districts taking advantage of the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) waiver extension announced by the USDA in April 2021, which allowed schools to serve free meals to all students and receive a higher meal reimbursement.
The number of individual schools that participate in CEP, however, has gone down slightly. According to the report, 33,300 schools adopted community eligibility in 2021-2022, a decrease of 107 schools, or 0.3 percent, from the previous year. The FRAC also notes this may be because of the SSO waiver.
Entire districts, groups of schools in a district or individual schools that participate in CEP can serve breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge. To be approved, at least 40% of a school or district's student body must be eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
Virginia had the largest increase in schools participating in CEP for the most recent school year, according to the report, with 226 new schools joining the program. Illinois and Washington also had large increases, with 130 and 88 schools joining the program, respectively. Nationwide, 74.3% of schools that are eligible for CEP participate in the program.