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California Department of Education News Release (with no CDE logo)
California Department of Education
News Release
Release: 17-86
November 27, 2017
Contact: Cynthia Butler
Phone: 916-319-0818

800,000 California Students Now Eligible for Free and Reduced Price Lunches Through New State-Level Direct Certification Process

SACRAMENTO— State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced today that more than 800,000 California students are now eligible to receive free and reduced priced meals from the state school lunch program through a more streamlined and automated state-level Direct Certification process.

Local education agencies (LEAs) can now use Medi-Cal data included on the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) direct certification reports to certify eligible students. The data exchange between the state departments and the LEAs takes place securely without disclosing a student’s Medicaid status, health information, or specific income data.

This Direct Certification process eliminates the need for families to fill out applications, reduces the administrative tasks of verifying and processing those applications, and identifies eligible students in a more expedient timeline.

“This new process is a great example of government agencies working together to create a more efficient system that better serves our students and can help to increase the number of students who receive healthy meals,” said Torlakson. “Now, many students can start the school year with their meal eligibility already in place, giving them access to the nutritious food they need to stay focused in class and ready to learn.”   

Torlakson, a former science teacher and cross country coach, has made student health a top priority, launching the Healthy Kids initiative to encourage students to exercise. The initiative seeks to ensure students have access to healthy meals and clean drinking water.

He cautioned that the way data is collected does not allow the California Department of Education (CDE) to determine how many more students will be eligible for free and reduced price meals. Many of the 800,000 students have used existing methods to gain eligibility.

Direct Certification is a federally-mandated process that certifies school age recipients of CalFresh and CalWorks benefits as eligible for the free school lunch program.

CALPADS provides direct certification results to all public schools, county offices of education, and charter schools through its electronic notification process. All students on Medi-Cal are not eligible for free and reduced price lunch. Families have to fall within a certain household income to be considered eligible. Once certified, a student’s eligibility is good for the entire school year.

The Direct Certification with Medicaid/Medi-Cal process began as a demonstration project through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The California Department of Education applied to participate in the demonstration project in 2016 to increase the number of students certified for free and reduced price meals and eliminate the need for a household application.

The demonstration project started with 14 school districts and as of July 1, 2017, all public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools statewide have access to Medi-Cal Direct Certification information located in CALPADS. 

To learn more about Direct Certification, visit the California Department of Education School Nutrition’s Direct Certification Web page.

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Tom Torlakson — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100

Last Reviewed: Wednesday, June 5, 2019
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