CEP Basics

Across New York State, CEP allows over 1,400 schools to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to more than 1.4 million students.

While many schools have successfully implemented CEP and are seeing the benefits of all of their students having access to healthy school meals, many more are eligible but not participating in CEP.

    Participating in CEP

Who qualifies:

Any district, group of schools in a district, or individual school with 40% or more “identified students”—children eligible for free school meals who are identified by means other than an individual household application—can participate in CEP.

CEP schools continue to operate both the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs—schools must uphold nutrition standards and meal quality, but processes and procedures for claiming reimbursable meals are simplified.

CEP with a lower Identified Student Percentage (40% to 60%)

There is a misconception that CEP is only cost effective if all meals—or nearly all meals—are reimbursed at the free rate. Cost savings associated with CEP implementation is an important consideration for schools with lower Identified Student Percentage (ISP)—above 40% but below 60%. They can often cover the cost of meals served to students who would otherwise pay. Examples include:

  • Administrative savings from eliminating processing and verifying school meal applications
  • Participation increases under CEP allow for economies of scale for food and labor costs
  • Savings from eliminating unpaid meal balances – both administrative costs of collecting fees and actual unpaid school meal fees.

Because of how CEP schools are reimbursed, however, schools with identified student percentages near the 40% threshold may need to identify other resources if their meal reimbursements do not fully cover the cost of serving meals at no charge to all students. In many such schools, adopting CEP is still an important strategy. Some schools have used income from catering programs or a la carte sales to supplement the cost.

Many local decision makers realize the benefits of CEP, and are willing to contribute non-federal funds, if needed, to optimize student academic achievement.

Additional Resources:

Making “Cents” of CEP at 40-50% ISP (Feb. 24, 2016)
This webinar highlights best practices for adopting community eligibility at schools with identified student percentages that fall between 40% and 50%.

The Community Eligibility Provision: What Food Service Management Companies Need to Know:
Food service management companies play a growing role in feeding hungry schoolchildren. This brief provides an overview of CEP basics for such companies.

How to apply:

Schools must apply to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to participate in CEP. Applications are due on June 30th in order for a school to implement CEP in the coming school year.

Eligibility is based on the percentage of identified students calculated using April 1, 2018 enrollment and 2017-2018 direct certification data.


Identified students include:

  • Children who are directly certified for free school meals because their household participates in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), and in certain instances, Medicaid.
  • Children who are certified for free school meals without an application because they are homeless or a runaway, migrant, in foster care, or participating in Head Start.

   How CEP works

  • Schools must provide all meals – both breakfast and lunch – to all students at no cost.
  • CEP schools no longer need to track meals by fee category (i.e. free, reduced-price, paid). Schools simply count the total number of meals served.
  • Schools no longer collect payment/fees from students. This eliminates both unpaid meal fees for families and the need for schools to spend time and resources to collect outstanding debt from families.
  • Schools no longer have to collect and verify school meal applications. In New York State, school must still collect alternative household income forms for other state and local funding. Learn more about best practices for collecting income forms here.

“Before CEP, we were struggling getting lunch forms back from families that we knew had to fill [them] out. I felt that impacted our numbers. I don’t think it reflected our true poverty level. So I’m very grateful and appreciative of what we have in place now.”

—Dr. Roberto Padilla, Superintendent, Newburgh Enlarged City School District

   Reimbursement under CEP

Reimbursement for meals is calculated using an Identified Student Percentage (ISP). The ISP is determined by the number of students certified for free school meals by means other than a household application, compared to the total school district’s/group of schools’/individual school’s enrollment as of April 1st.


Once schools determine their ISP, the claiming percentage under CEP can be identified. The claiming percentage calculated by multiplying the ISP by 1.6. This claiming percentage determines the levels of reimbursement for each meal served. In other words, this percentage indicates how many meals will be reimbursed at the free rate.


Once schools determine their claiming percentage, the following equation is used to determine the number of meals reimbursed at the free and paid rate.


For example, a school with 50 percent identified students would be reimbursed at the free rate for 80 percent of the breakfasts and lunches served, and at the paid rate for the remaining 20 percent.

“The money’s here. I’m at a position now where we’re getting new equipment…we are rebuilding the food service program.”

—Sharon Gardner, Food Service Director, Hempstead Union Free School District

Ensuring all identified students are captured

Direct Certification Tip sheet: Direct certification helps determine which schools are eligible for CEP and what percentage of meals will be reimbursed at the free rate. This resource can help schools identify which students are directly certified for free school meals and improve their direct certification process.


CEP in Action: ABC School District

ABC School District is evaluating CEP implementation and its impact on revenue. The district has a total enrollment of 500 children; 315 students (63%) are qualified for free or reduced-price school meals; 250 students (50%) qualify as “identified students.”  Currently, only 20% of its students,100 in total, participate in breakfast on an average day—a percentage consistent with the overall NYS average for breakfast participation. Here is the district’s revenue using the standard reimbursement calculations:

68 x $2.0913 (free reimbursement rate) = $142.2084
10 X $1.8466 (reduced reimbursement rate) = $18.466
22 x $0.2923 (paid reimbursement rate) = $6.4306

Total daily reimbursement revenue: $167.11

CEP Reimbursement

Schools have seen an increase of 25% in breakfast participation after implementing CEP. Under CEP, we project that ABC School District breakfast participation would increase to 125 breakfasts served. To calculate reimbursement under CEP, first the district must calculate its claiming percentage. Then it can calculate its reimbursement:







CEP Reimbursement

100 x $2.0913 (free reimbursement rate) = $209.13
25 x $0.2923 (paid reimbursement rate) = $7.3075

Total daily reimbursement revenue: $216.44

CEP Reimbursement Coupled with Breakfast in the Classroom*

200 x $2.0913 (free reimbursement rate) = $418.26
25 x $0.2923 (paid reimbursement rate) = $7.3075

Total daily reimbursement revenue: $425.57


*NYS schools that combine both CEP and alternative breakfast service models have seen up to a 125% increase in SBP participation.  For ABC School District, this equates to 225 students eating breakfast, on average, each day.