Community Eligibility Option

Friday, February 21, 2014 -- Nyla Benjamin

Have you heard of CEO?

No, it’s not the head honcho of an organization. In this instance, CEO refers to the Community Eligibility Option (CEO), and it could potentially change the way some funding and accountability calculations are made in school districts throughout the country.

CEO is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program that has been phased in as a pilot since the 2011–12 school year and will be available for all schools in the 2014–15 school year. The program allows eligible schools to provide breakfast and lunch to students at no charge regardless of their students’ economic status. Schools are eligible if 40% or more of their students are eligible for free meals through programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). 

What does this have to do with funding and accountability calculations? 

The CEO program is NOT based on the free and reduced lunch (FRL) applications that families often submit at the beginning of each school year. Participating schools will not even need to have families fill those out. Per the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), districts must rank schools based on the percentage of lower economic students enrolled to allocate Title I funding, and historically, they have used the information collected from those FRL applications. In addition, state and district disaggregated data by subgroups, for accountability purposes, have traditionally been calculated using information from the FRL applications. It is conceivable that school districts will now have some schools that collect these FRL applications (those not participating in CEO) and some that don’t (those participating in CEO).

The U.S. Department of Education has provided implementation guidance to states, and most states are in the process of developing state-specific guidance for districts if they have not done so already. Of particular interest in the federal guidance is a directive regarding identifying economically disadvantaged students for Title I allocation. For purposes of reporting assessment and accountability data, states are to deem ALL students in a CEO school as economically disadvantaged. “Similarly, all students in a Community Eligibility Option school would be eligible for any services for which eligibility is based on poverty,” states the Department of Education. As the requirement for eligibility in the program is 40% or more students being certified to receive certain public assistance, it is possible for more than half of the students in a school to be considered economically disadvantaged, although their parents’ income may exceed the poverty threshold set by public assistance programs.

Important things to Note about CEO:

  • The Community Eligibility Option should not affect the total amount of Title I funds that a district receives; however, program participation affects how Title I funds are allocated to each school building.
  • The Community Eligibility Option will be called the Community Eligibility Provision once the pilot phase has ended and the program becomes available in all states in 2014–15.
  • The program was phased in with Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan implementing in 2011–12; New York, Washington, D.C, Ohio, and West Virginia in 2012–13; and Georgia, Florida, Maryland, and Massachusetts in 2013–14. Full implementation for all schools nationwide begins in 2014–15.

More information about the CEO program can be found at:

We would love your feedback on CEO. How do you think CEO could positively or negatively impact schools?