Updated Guidance on Community Eligibility and Title I Published by ED
Kiefer Frager-Akins enjoys lunch with his fourth-grade class in the school cafeteria at Stark Elementary School in Stamford in November, 2010.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has issued updated guidance on how to align the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) for school meal programs with Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  The guidance, issued at the end of March, revises some of the questions and answers in the earlier document and adds others but does not significantly depart from guidance issued early in 2014.
Most of the concerns surrounding CEP’s interaction with Title I exist because the program allows schools and districts above a certain poverty threshold – as verified through participation in other poverty-based programs by students and their families – to serve free meals to all students.  But because these schools no longer send out household income surveys, administrators are no longer able to use free- and reduced-price meal qualification data to inform funding calculations, reporting, and accountability.
The greatest number of changes come within the section on within-district allocations.  Administrators had expressed concerns to both ED and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the CEP, regarding how a district should distribute funds when it has some schools that participate in CEP and others that do not.  The guidance instructs districts to find a “common poverty metric” in order to rank its schools and allocate funds, and offers three suggested ways of doing so.  ED does note that districts may conduct their own household income surveys to collect this data, but continues to discourage them from doing so because it runs counter to CEP’s purpose of reducing administrative burden.  ED also says that Title I funds may be used to conduct such surveys in limited circumstances, once the district has ensured that the use of federal funds would be supplemental and not constitute supplanting.  Conducting the survey must also be necessary (i.e. there are no other data sources which would provide comparable information).  If a district uses only Title I funds for a survey and does not share the costs with another program, the data may only be used for Title I purposes (unless the non-Title I use is “incidental”). 
ED also offers additional guidance on how to define the “disadvantaged students” subgroup for purposes of Title I reporting and accountability.  ED offers a number of options, including using only the subgroup of students identified through other programs.  Whatever definition a State chooses to use, however, it must use the same definition for all districts with at least one CEP-participating school. 
The new CEP guidance is available here.
Resources: Kim Riley, “ED Revises Guidance on Title I, Community Eligibility,” Education Daily, April 2, 2015.

About the Author

Julia Martin is an attorney with the Washington, DC law firm of Brustein & Manasevit, PLLC. Established in 1980, the Firm is nationally recognized for its federal education regulatory and legislative practice, providing legal advice regarding compliance with all major federal education programs as well as the federal grants management requirements, including the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR). In addition, they work with agencies on federal spending flexibility, allowability, policies and procedures, audit defense and resolution and legislative updates. The Firm provides government relations services for the National Title I Association.