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CPP Eligibility Factor - Child Is Eligible To Receive Free or Reduced Meals


Clarification of Eligibility Factor

The child is eligible to receive free or reduced-cost meals pursuant to the provision of the Federal “National School Lunch Act”, 42 U.S.C. sec. 1751 et seq. (22-28-106 (1) (a.5) (I) C.R.S.).

Many social services that families may use also determine eligibility through income requirements. The Federal Poverty Level (FPL) is the most widely used standardized measure.

  • “Free and reduced meals,” for example, uses measures of 135% FPL and 185% FPL, respectively. Therefore, it is not necessary to define and/or qualify a child under additional income-related eligibility factors (such as eligible/receiving WIC, TANF, Food Stamps, and Medicaid) as free and reduced lunch encompasses the broader category of “low income” and “facing economic hardship.”
  • In some communities, the free and reduced lunch meal count does not accurately reflect the need among families. In areas where the cost of living is high, measures of self-sufficiency may provide a more accurate reflection of need or risk among children and families.

How It May Be Documented

Per CDE memo (PDF), all programs should collect free and reduced meal eligibility data for each child, even if the child is not qualifying under this factor.

The Family Economic Data Survey may be used in place of the free and reduced meal form.

Significance of Factor in regards to School Readiness

  • The free and reduced meal rate is a proxy for poverty because it is linked to a family’s income and family size. Low-income children start school behind their more advantaged peers, and research shows that this achievement gap continues through the school years.
  • Poverty is particularly detrimental to children and impacts overall healthy development. Low-income children have smaller vocabularies and are less likely to know their letters and numbers. Young children from low-income families score lower on tests of early learning and math. They are also more likely to face social and economic problems later in life, including illiteracy, teen pregnancy, high dropout rates and unemployment1.
  • Children’s social competence and ability to self-regulate are also linked to income; children from lower-income families have lower reported levels in these skills2.
  • Brain development research shows a sensitive period from prenatal through the first few years of life, when the brain is most able to respond to and grow from environmental stimulation. Children in poverty are disproportionately exposed to risk factors that negatively influence brain development.

Research References:

1Yazejian, N., & Bryant, D. (2009). Promising early returns: Educare implementation study data. Chapel Hill: FPG Child Development Institute, UNCCH.

2Gershoff , E. (November 2003). Low income and the development of America’s kindergartners. Living at the Edge – Research Brief No. 4., National Center for Children in Poverty. Retrieved August 7, 2009, from

3National Center for Children in Poverty. (June 1999). Poverty and brain development in early childhood. Retrieved August 7, 2009, from

Additional Resources for Families and Staff:

Memo regarding collecting family economic data

Self-Sufficiency Standard - The Self-Sufficiency Standard calculates how much income a family must earn to meet basic needs without public or private assistance based on family composition in each of Colorado’s 64 counties.

Updated Guidance for Release of Disclosure of Children’s Eligibility Information to Education Officials,

Back to CPP Legislated Eligibility Criteria Page

CPP Coordinator Resources Page

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