School Meal Application Toolkit
Hunger Solutions New York and No Kid Hungry New York have created this toolkit to help school districts communicate with families about the importance of completing free and reduced-price (F/RP) applications or alternative income forms.
- Primarily, to encourage families to submit a F/RP school meal application.
- Communicate clearly to families the benefits of submitting their household income information through a F/RP school meal application.
- Improve the return rate of F/RP school meal applications.
F/RP Applications in NYS: Did You Know?
- Funding for education in New York State is tied to F/RP applications.
- All NY school districts collect income data via F/RP applications establish economic need for state and local funding.
- Schools using federal provisions – like CEP and Provision 2 – to offer free meals to all students are also required to collect household income data for state-based education funding and other benefits.
- NYS Education Department provides a sample prototype Household Income Form to CEP schools upon approval.
Checklist to Maximize the Return of F/RP Applications
Direct certification should always be the first step in establishing student economic need. The goal is to streamline the process of identifying economically disadvantaged students for both schools and families. Strong direct certification reduces administrative work and results in fewer applications for families to submit and for schools to collect and process.
- Most school districts can take additional steps to increase the number of students they certify to receive free school meals without submitting a school meal application. Check out our tipsheet on strong direct certification
- Note: Schools operating CEP must also conduct direct certification.
Providing a clear, easy-to-understand form will increase the likelihood that families will complete and turn in the forms.
- Rename your form: In New York, schools are allowed to rename the form. We recommend something like “Education Benefit Form” or “Household Income Form.”
- We do not recommend the name “survey” (e.g. “Household Income Survey”), as some districts have reported that families perceive these forms to be optional and thus have lower return rates.
- Administering an “Education Benefit Form” in place of a “free and reduced-price application” will reduce confusion among families if meals are offered at no cost for all students.
- Provide online/electronic forms: Many schools have had success with making school meal applications more accessible by having an online version. More families submit applications when there is an electronic form instead of a paper form.
- Put the form online and share via email, text, and QR code on print materials.
- Requirements for electronic applications can be found in the USDA Eligibility Manual, pages 80-81.
- Make your form more accessible:
- Provide the form in all languages that families in your community speak.
- Simplify the form by using checkboxes with income ranges, as opposed to having family members write their incomes.
- Do not remove required information: Schools with standard counting & claiming should proceed with caution. The requirements for the income form are outlined in the USDA Eligibility Manual, pages 74-80.
- The application must include all the appropriate confidentiality and non-discrimination statements.
Families attending schools where free meals are offered to all students are more likely to submit household income information if they understand that it can benefit them and their school. More than 3,000 schools across New York provide free meals to all and still successfully receive the data needed to determine economic need. Best practices that encourage families to complete and submit income forms clearly communicate:
- Why the school needs to continue to collect this information
- How household income information is used beyond the school meal programs
Some examples of what this household income information is used for in New York State include, State Aid, Foundation Aid, Local Funding, SAT/ACT registration waivers, discounts on AP exam fees, and band instrument fee waivers. If your school offers other discounts, fee waivers, and/or programs to F/RP-eligible families, be sure to include this in your messaging to families.
It is helpful for the entire school community to understand how F/RP income applications/household income forms impact the amount of education and technology funding a school receives, and other benefits like test and application fee waivers.
Download for key strategies to clearly communicate about F/RP School Meal Applications/ Household Income Forms.
Each time your district communicates with families, there is an opportunity to tell your school community how school meal applications impact more than just school meals. Encourage families to apply and spread the word on your website, newsletters, emails, texts, and more. Download website text, robocalls/robotext scripts, and template letter/email to families.
Download for sample language and graphics to use on your social media channels.
Flyers to Encourage Families to Submit Meal Applications
These flyers detail some of the many ways in which school meal applications benefit schools, families, and communities. Can be printed or used digitally on websites and in newsletters.
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