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National School Lunch Program



Yearly Reports: % Students Eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch


All files are in Microsft Excel Format


Numerous scientific studies have suggested a strong link between child nutrition and learning in school. This supports the importance of the availability of school meals programs in improving the educational performance of our children.

Every school day the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) serves nutritious meals to more than 28 million children nationwide. Pennsylvania served more than 186 million school lunches during the 2004-2005 school year. These healthy meals enhance our children's readiness to learn.

How does it work?
The NSLP is a federal and state reimbursement program for each meal served that meets federal requirements. All NSLP sponsors are required to offer free and reduced-price lunches to eligible children. Reimbursement rates are established annually by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Sponsors are entitled to receive USDA commodities for each lunch they serve. The variety of commodities sponsors may receive depends on product availability and market prices.

Who may participate?
Any public school, intermediate unit, charter school, area vocational technical or career technology school, public residential child care institution, and tax exempt non-public school or residential child care institution may apply to be an NSLP sponsor.

How do children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches ?
Children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the poverty level, and children in families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and children in families receiving food stamp benefits are eligible for free lunches. Children in families whose income is between 130% and 185% of the poverty level are eligible for reduced price lunches.

What are the meal requirements?
To qualify for reimbursement, NSLP sponsors must meet certain requirements depending upon the menu option they have selected for their school. In the Traditional and Food Based Menu Options, they have specific minimum requirements in four food components that consist of five food items. The components are Breads/Grains, Fruit/Vegetable, Meat/Meat Alternate and Fluid Milk. The serving sizes/amounts vary depending on the age of the students. The NuMenu and Assisted NuMenu Options are based on three menu items: an entrée, side dish and milk. In all menu options, the serving sizes/amounts vary depending on the age of the students.



1932 – Some school lunch programs received federal loans and agricultural surpluses. Legislation in 1935 authorized the USDA to purchase surplus farm commodities and distribute them to the school lunch program. By 1939, 900,000 children in 14,000 schools participated in the program. During the late 1930's the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided labor for cooking and serving lunches.

1946 – The National School Lunch Act (NSLA) permanently authorized the lunch program. It established a basic meal pattern requirement and required schools to serve lunches free or at a reduced price to children in need.

1949 – Commodity assistance for the NSLP was authorized to supplement price support and surplus removal programs.

1954 – P.L. 83-69 established the Special Milk Program (SMP) when funds from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) were authorized to be used to increase fluid milk consumption among children in non-profit schools.

1956 – Authorization for CCC funds was increased to $75 million per year (P.L. 84-465). Eligibility expanded to include children in non-profit child care centers, settlement houses, summer camps and similar institutions.

1960 – P.L. 86-446 authorized funds to reimburse CCC for the SMP and raised the annual funding level to $95 million.

1962 – Funds for free and reduced-price lunches were first authorized for schools.

1966 – The School Breakfast Program (SBP) was established under the Child Nutrition Act (CNA) of 1966, Public Law 89-642, as a two year pilot project. First consideration was given to schools in poor areas and areas where children had to travel a long distance to school. The SMP was also incorporated into the CNA.

1968 – In the 1968 amendments, P.L. 90-302, the SBP authority was extended through Fiscal Year 1971.

1970 – Secretary of Agriculture was authorized to set uniform national income poverty guidelines for free and reduced price eligibility. P.L. 91-295 permanently authorized the SMP and extended it to Guam.

1971 – P.L. 92-32 extended the breakfast program through Fiscal Year 1973. The Secretary of Agriculture was authorized to pay 100% of the operating costs of a program in cases of severe need, and provided that eligibility for free and reduced price breakfasts was to be based on the same income eligibility guidelines as used in the NSLP.

1973 – P.L. 93-150 made free milk available to eligible children.

1975 – Amendments to CNA: P.L. 94-105 made SBP a permanent program, "Offer vs. Serve" was mandated in high schools, allowing students a greater choice in the amount of foods they accept in order to reduce plate waste and the SMP was extended to the U.S. territories.

1977 – P.L. 94-166 mandated that free milk could be made available at times other than during scheduled federally-assisted meal service. "Offer vs. Serve" was made a local option in junior high and middle schools.

1978 – P.L. 95-627 included provisions to encourage expansion of the SBP by providing additional financial assistance and food service equipment to local schools initiating breakfast programs.

1980 – P.L. 96-499 set a $.05 flat rate paid for milk served in schools with meal service programs.

1981 – Under the Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1981, reimbursements were reduced for paid and reduced price categories in the SBP. Reimbursements were adjusted annually rather then semi-annually and severe need assistance was restricted to schools in which 40% or more of the school lunches were served free and at a reduced price. Private schools with tuition of $1,500 or more were not permitted to participate in the SBP or SMP. Under P.L. 97-35, SMP participation was limited to schools and institutions not participating in another federally funded food service program. "Offer vs. Serve" was extended as a local option to elementary schools, national average payments for NSLP were reduced and income eligibility guidelines were tightened.

1986 – P.L. 99-500 provided direct certification, automatic free eligibility, to those children whose families receive food stamps or Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). P.L. 99-661 restored the SMP eligibility for children enrolled in split-session kindergarten programs if they do not have access to another federally assisted school meal program and increased reimbursement to NSLP and SBP sponsors.

1987 – P.L. 100-71 eliminated tuition limit for private schools.

1988 – P.L. 100-435 added an additional $.03 for each breakfast served, effective July 1, 1989.

1989 – P.L. 101-47 authorized reimbursement for supplements served in after school care programs operated by schools participating in the Child and Adult Care Program (CACFP), simplified the application process for free and reduced-price meals and authorized local schools to certify children for free meals based on direct certification. Directed the USDA to develop a certified system of federal/state reviews of local schools, authorized demonstration projects to test alternatives to traditional meal counting and claiming procedures and required schools in the NSLP to offer both whole milk and unflavored, low-fat milk. The regulation also established a series of grants to state education agencies to help fund start-up costs for the SBP and mandated state agencies make an attempt to outreach to local school boards to make them aware of the SBP.

1991 – P.L. 101-47 authorized supplemental meals under the NSLP for children in after school care for elementary and secondary schools that participate in the NSLP, sponsor after school care programs and participate in the CACFP on May 15,1989.

1993 – Final rule was published providing for meal supplements in the NSLP, authorized in P.L. 101-47, effective August 10, 1993.

1994 – P.L. 103-448, Healthy Meals for Healthy Americans Act, established nutritional standards for meals served to children.

1995 – USDA issued regulations revising nutrition standards for school meal programs in accordance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

1996 – P.L. 104-149 School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children (SMI) provided for flexibility in menu planning.

1998 – P.L. 105-336 amended Section 17A of the NSLA, authorizing reimbursements of supplements (snacks), for approved afterschool care programs that are educational in purpose.

2004- P.L. 108-265 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act (Summary) provided regulations to strengthen nutrition programs and promote healthy choices among children. Specifically it requires local wellness policies be designed and implemented at the local level and authorizes the continuation and expansion of the Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program.


For additional information, please contact:

Vonda Cooke (Fekete) | Division Chief
Pennsylvania Department of Education - Division of Food and Nutrition
333 Market Street | Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333
Phone: 800.331.0129
RA-NSLP@pa.gov | www.education.state.pa.us