About the Data
Free and Reduced Price Lunch Eligibility

This page provides information about free and reduced price lunch (FRPL) eligibility rates among Minnesota public school students.  Yearly FRPL eligibility rates are used within school districts to determine a school’s eligibility for Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), also known as the No Child Left Behind Act (2001 reauthorization) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015 reauthorization).  In public health, these rates are used to assess need or identify vulnerable populations.    

  • The number and percent of public school students eligible for the free and reduced price lunch (FRPL) program by state, county, school district, school, school year, and grade (kindergarten (KG) through 12th grade).
  • If FRPL eligibility varies over time.
  • If FRPL eligibility varies across counties, school districts, schools, or grades.  

Children who are eligible for the free and reduced price lunch program generally come from lower-income households.  Children from lower-income households may be more vulnerable to severe dental disease and other chronic diseases.   

  • Create awareness among educators; dental, medical and public health professionals; researchers; grant makers; policy makers; and the public about free and reduced price lunch eligibility rates in Minnesota public schools.
  • Provide statistical evidence to support state and local program planning, evaluation, and policies.  
  • Target prevention efforts (e.g. healthy eating and fluoridated tap water campaigns, school dental sealant programs) and resources toward counties, school districts, and schools identified as having higher student free and reduced price lunch eligibility rates. 
  • The actual percentage of students in poverty enrolled in public schools.
  • The percent of public school students receiving free and reduced price lunch.
  • Free and reduced price lunch eligibility among students enrolled in non-public schools, traditional and charter public schools that did not participate in the National School Meal Program, or public schools with missing eligibility data.   

The total number and percent of students eligible for the free and reduced price lunch program is used as an alternative measure or indicator of the percentage of children within public schools from lower-income households.  This indicator helps to assess need or identify vulnerable populations for public health programs.    

  • Eligible free lunch program: the number and percentage of students enrolled in KG through grade 12 Minnesota public schools who are eligible for the free lunch program on October 1 of each new school year.
  • Eligible reduced price lunch program: the number and percentage of students enrolled in KG through grade 12 Minnesota public schools who are eligible for the reduced price lunch program on October 1 of each new school year.
  • Total eligible free and reduced price lunch program: the total number and percent of students enrolled in KG through grade 12 Minnesota public schools who are eligible for the free and reduced price lunch program on October 1 of each new school year.

Eligible free lunch program (percent): The number of students eligible for the free lunch program divided by the total number of students enrolled multiplied by 100 percent.

Eligible reduced price lunch program (percent): The number of students eligible for the reduced price lunch program divided by the total number of students enrolled multiplied by 100 percent.

Total eligible free and reduced price lunch program (percent): The number of students eligible for the free and reduced price lunch program divided by the total number of students enrolled multiplied by 100 percent.

In the stratified analyses found on the View Charts: Free and reduced price lunch eligibility page, free and reduced price lunch eligibility rates were weighted by the total number of students enrolled in public schools.   

Students eligible for the free and reduced price lunch program enrolled in KG through grade 12 public schools.  

  • Free and reduced price lunch eligibility is not an actual measure of the percentage of students in poverty enrolled in a school. 
  • The Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program is an opt-in program in most schools.  Parents or guardians and students over 18 may not enroll in the program.    
  • Household income requirements for free and reduced price lunch eligibility may not be comparable across years because they are revised each year at the Federal level.
  • Data does not include student free and reduced price lunch eligibility in public schools with missing data or schools that did not participate in the National School Lunch Program.  
  • Schools that participate in the National Student Lunch Program accept applications for free and reduced price school meal benefits at any time, however, the number of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch is recorded every fall (October 1) of the new school year.  

Free and reduced price lunch eligibility numbers for Minnesota public schools are reported in the student data enrollment file on the Minnesota Department of Education Data Center Data Reports & Analytics webpage.  United States statistics are located on the National Center for Education Statistics webpage.     

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 100,000 public and non-profit private schools and residential childcare institutions.  It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to millions of children each school day.

The Food and Nutrition Service administers the program at the federal level.  At the state level, NSLP is administered by state education agencies (e.g. Minnesota Department of Education), which operate the program through agreements with public school food authorities.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets the free and reduced price lunch eligibility based on household income eligibility guidelines (per Section 9 of the National School Lunch Act).  These guidelines may change from year to year.  Guides effective July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016 are:

  • Free price lunch: incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level ($31,525 for a family of four).
  • Reduced price lunch: incomes 131 to 185 percent of the poverty level ($44, 863 for a family of four). 

During the 2015 to 2016 school year, 323,531 Minnesota public school students were eligible for free and reduced price lunch, or 4 out of every 10 public school students.   

Minnesota public school students eligible for the free and reduced price lunch (FRPL) program by school year

School year Total FRPL eligible (number) Total FRPL eligible (percent)

2005 to 2006

251,820

30.4%

2006 to 2007

257,196

31.1%

2007 to 2008

262,056

31.8%

2008 to 2009

270,247

32.9%

2009 to 2010

293,062

35.6%

2010 to 2011

301,974

36.7%

2011 to 2012

307,527

37.3%

2012 to 2013

318,129

38.3%

2013 to 2014

322,000

38.5%

2014 to 2015

323,009

38.4%

2015 to 2016

323,531

38.1%

Source: Minnesota Department of Education Data Center, Student Enrollment Data for Special Populations.  Note: This table does not include schools for which information on free and reduced price lunch is missing or schools that did not participate in the National School Lunch Program. 

Federal health programs use a two-category definition for describing rates of free and reduced price lunch eligibility within public schools to assess need or identify vulnerable populations.  These categories are used to describe the data found on View Charts: Free and reduced price lunch eligibility page.

Free and reduced price lunch (FRPL) eligibility categories:

  • Low: Less than 50.0 percent of students are FRPL eligible.
  • High: 50.0 percent or more students are FRPL eligible. 

The National Center for Education Statistics use a four-category definition for describing rates of free and reduced price lunch eligibility within public schools, an alternative measure or indicator for the concentration of low-income students within traditional and charter public schools.  These subcategories are found on View Charts: Tooth decay (children) and View Charts: Dental sealants (children) pages.  They are also found in the Explore Data: Data query and Explore Data: Interactive map data pages. 

Free and reduced price lunch (FRPL) eligibility subcategories:

  • Low: 25.0 percent or less of students are FRPL eligible. 
  • Mid-low: 25.1 to 50.0 percent of students are FRPL eligible.
  • Mid-high: 50.1 to 75.0 percent of students are FRPL eligible.
  • High: More than 75.0 percent of students are FRPL eligible.

Rural and urban classifications are based on Rural/Urban Commuting-Area taxonomy (RUCA-zip) developed by the University of Washington, Rural Health Research Center

The Minnesota Department of Education classifies school type.

  • Elementary and combined schools include any public school with a combination of elementary grades KG through 6, but may include up to grade 12.
  • Middle and junior high schools include any public school with a combination of mid-grade levels ranging from grades 4 through 8.
  • Secondary and senior high schools include any public school with a combination of upper grade levels ranging from grades 6 through 12.

Use caution when reporting this measure.  Free and reduced price lunch eligibility is highly correlated with child poverty, however it should not be confused with the actual percentage of students in poverty enrolled in a public school.

The United States Department of Agriculture sets the free and reduced price lunch (FRPL) eligibility criteria each year based on family size and household income.  The National Center for Education Statistics and federal health programs use FRPL eligibility as an alternative measure or indicator of the percentage of children within public schools from lower income households.

Overall child poverty and socioeconomic status is best assessed using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), which provides information on families with children under age 18 that are below the federal poverty level.  Establishing socioeconomic status is more complex and may include a range of family characteristics, such as parental education and occupation.

For more information on poverty and income in Minnesota: Poverty & Income on the MN Public Health Data Access portal.

Minnesota Department of Health Oral Health Program (2015).  Minnesota Department of Education Data Center Reports and Analytics, Student Data for Special Populations: Free and Reduced Price Lunch Eligibility.  Collected by the Minnesota Oral Program.  St. Paul, Minnesota: MN Public Health Data Access Portal.  [Add URL] Retrieved month, year.

Please send questions or comments to: health.oral@state.mn.us