Letters from the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
July 30, 2014
Archived Information

July 31, 2014

Dear Superintendents:

I hope you and your team have had some time this summer to recharge for the new school year.

As you have likely heard, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched a new program that can help improve child nutrition and may be available to your schools. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 allows qualifying high-need local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students without requiring families to complete an annual household application, providing the nutrition and energy children need to be healthy and ready to learn. CEP is a powerful tool to both increase child nutrition and reduce administrative burdens at the district and school levels, saving staff time and resources.

Eligible schools or LEAs that choose to participate in CEP receive full federal reimbursement for up to 100 percent of meals served, depending on the school's or LEA's poverty percentage, which is determined by its share of "identified students" who automatically qualify for free meals based on their family's enrollment in other programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Head Start. If your schools or district serve 40 percent or more identified students, they are eligible to participate in CEP – as a district, a group of schools, or one school. Additionally, your State Department of Education and State Child Nutrition Offices are good resources for specific CEP eligibility questions. 

CEP has already been successfully implemented in 4,000 pilot schools across the country with very positive results: in schools participating for two years, breakfast participation rose by 25 percent and lunch participation by 13 percent. Enrolled schools have experienced better test scores, higher attendance, and fewer administrative burdens. 

I know that data from USDA's annual household applications is used in a variety of contexts. Most importantly for schools, programs under Title I, Part A, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, use poverty data to determine school eligibility and allocations.  The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has developed guidance to help LEAs navigate the interactions between CEP and Title I, Part A. If you are interested in commenting on this guidance or have questions about how it applies to your circumstances, please send them to: In addition, specific Title I questions may be directed to Todd Stephenson, at or by phone at (202) 205-1645. Lastly, for guidance regarding CEP and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, please see this June 11, 2014, letter to Chief State School Officers –

As the upcoming school year is quickly upon us, it is my hope that those of you who are eligible and have begun the process necessary for CEP participation will take the final necessary steps to commit to implement CEP by the August 31, 2014, deadline.

To assist you in this process, ED and USDA staff will be part of an upcoming webinar highlighting the lessons learned of state and local school officials, where participants considering CEP implementation or with implementation issues will be able to ask questions of other participating school leaders.  The webinar is scheduled for Friday, August 1, 2014, at 2 p.m. EDT.  Please register for the webinar using this link:  Call participants may send questions beforehand or during the webinar to this e-mail address:

I strongly support CEP, which can help give students the opportunity to learn and thrive by ensuring that every needy child receives healthy school meals at no charge. I strongly encourage eligible LEAs that have not yet adopted CEP to review our guidance and USDA's resources and carefully consider the positive impact that CEP can have for your students. Thank you for your attention to this critically important issue, and to each of you, best wishes for this school year.


Arne Duncan

Last Modified: 02/16/2017