This resource is a primer for authorizers, policymakers and advocates to understand the current regulations for participating in a federal food service program. Navigating the complex requirements of these programs is one of the major hurdles to equitable participation by charter schools, both because of the specialized knowledge needed by staff and the difficulty of operating a food services program in a financially sound manner at a small scale.
NACSA has created this resource in order to help authorizers understand the challenges charter schools face and to better equip stakeholders to assist schools navigate this important access and equity issue.
Note: Throughout this primer, NACSA uses the term “school,” which, in the case of a CMO or multi-campus charter school, would cover all schools managed by the same operator.
Eligibility for free and reduced price food services through the federal School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs is determined in two ways: either individual students are eligible for the program through one of three pathways, or an entire school may be eligible through a relatively new community eligibility provision.
INDIVIDUAL STUDENT ELIGIBILITY
DIRECT ELIGIBILITY CERTIFICATION
INCOME APPLICATION CERTIFICATION
For students eligible through the third pathway (Income Application), Verification guidance
COMMUNITY ELIGIBILITY PROVISION
Eligibility/Individual Student Eligibility
Eligibility verification is only required when student participation is through the third pathway, Income Application Eligibility, not through either of the two direct eligibility pathways (Program Participation or Categorical Eligibility). Verification is also unnecessary if a school participates in the Community Eligibility Provision.
Though verification is ultimately the responsibility of families, as the consequence is a loss of meal benefits, LEAs must assist families as much as possible in the verification process. Verification may be necessary to confirm that the family meets the income thresholds, that the family does or does not receive qualifying assistance, or other application information, such as household size.
Unless the SEA has taken verification responsibility, LEAs must annually verify a sample of applications: LEAs must sample 3% of the pool of applications, or 3,000 applications, whichever is fewer.
LEAs must verify, on a case-by-case basis, applications that are “questionable,” meaning where the LEA has reason to believe information was omitted, falsified, or incomplete.
Students directly eligible through the first two pathways (Program Participation or Categorical Eligibility) can be "directly verified" through public agency records and shared data exchanges. LEAs are not required to use direct verification, however are encouraged to do so, and public agencies are encouraged and enabled to make the use of direct verification as streamlined as possible.
Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program must offer “nutritious, well-balanced, and age-appropriate meals” and meet regulation-specified meal requirements and nutritional standards. School meals must meet both daily requirements, as well cumulative weekly requirements, laid out in a regulatory table
Similar standards apply for schools participating in the School Breakfast Program: meals must meet daily and weekly nutritional standards.
- 2 CFR §200.305
- 2 CFR Part 200, Subpart E
- Procurement Standards (2 CFR §200.318-323): Regulations require schools to adopt procurement standards that ensure that purchases comply with the school’s procedures, are necessary, are done through an open competition among vendors, are free of a conflict-of-interest, and are properly documented. Schools must also identify and follow one of four specific approved methods of procurement (micro-purchases, small purchases, sealed bids, or competitive proposals); a noncompetitive proposal method may be used, but only in select circumstances (2 CFR §200.320).
FEDERAL FOOD SERVICES PROGRAM PARTICIPATION
A school cannot contract with a Food Services Management Company (FSMC) to provide ‘a la carte’ food service unless the FSMC also provides free, reduced price, and paid reimbursable lunch service to all eligible students.
A contract between a school and a Food Services Management Company (FSMC) must comply with federal regulations, set forth in 7 CFR 210.16, intended to ensure the FSA retains ultimate responsibility for operating the food services program.
Regulations require that:
- The school monitors the program through regular on-site visits
- The school retains signature authority on any state and federal agreements
- The school maintains applicable health certifications and responsibility for compliance with State and local health and safety regulations
- The school convenes a school advisory committee to assist in menu planning
- The program complies with applicable State regulations on procurement and contracting (e.g. review of invitations to bid and proposed contracts)
Regulations also specifically guide certain terms of the contract:
- “Cost plus a percentage of the cost” and “cost plus a percentage of the income” fee arrangements are explicitly prohibited
- The FSMC must maintain all required records and such records shall be available for review by the school upon request
- If meals are prepared off-site, the FSMC maintains appropriate health certification for the off-site facility
- The school is not required to make payments for any food that is spoiled, does not meet federal nutritional requirements, or otherwise does not meet the terms of the contract
- Contracts can be for terms of no more than one year, with no more than four yearly options for renewal in one contract; contracts must be terminable by either party with 60-day notice
Schools looking to contract with a Food Service Management Company (FSMC) must comply with all standard federal requirements around procurement (see Procurement above) as well as additional provisions specific to receiving bids from FSMCs set forth in 7 CFR 210.16(b).
RFPs must require inclusion of a sample 21-day menu, or require bidders to provide such a sample menu, that complies with program nutritional standards or the purposes of calculating cost estimates. If the school intends to subject an FSMC to sanctions or nonperformance, the RFP must explicitly include the specific sanctions available.
STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
- 7 CFR 15b.7(a)
- Meal Service Modifications: Schools must also make necessary accommodations to provide meal service to students with disabilities, which may include additional or specialized equipment, personnel, or training 7 CFR 15b.4(b)(2)