Paid Lunch Equity (PLE)

Paid Lunch Equity Tool

Schools are required to charge students for paid meals at a price that is, on average, equal to the difference between free meal reimbursement and the paid meal reimbursement. Schools that currently charge less for meal prices than the amount needed to create paid lunch equity are required to (1) gradually increase their prices over time until they meet the requirement or (2) supplement their food service operating funds with non-federal funds to ensure equity. USDA has developed School Year (SY) 2017-2018 Paid Lunch Equity (PLE) Tool, an Excel-based PLE Tool with user instructions that CEs may use to determine the price increase necessary to meet the requirement. This form includes the Nonprogram Food Revenue Tool to assist CEs in determining if nonprogram revenue can be used to meet the paid lunch equity requirement. TDA has also developed the Program/Nonprogram Revenue Proportion Calculation Worksheet to assist CE in the calculation their program/nonprogram revenue proportions.

Paid Lunch Equity Exemption


Before applying for a PLE exemption, what should contracting Entities (CEs) do?

CEs should take the following actions before submitting the PLE exemption form:

  1. Determine if the CE is required to make modification in their meal pricing structure. USDA has provided the Paid Lunch Equity Tool for this purpose.
  2. Review recent efforts the CE has made to improve the school nutrition program. There are numerous resources available that can help CEs improve their nutrition programs including the following:
  3. Review the school nutrition fund balance to determine if the CE has an excessive fund balance (more than 3 months operating funds) or if raising meal prices will cause the CE to have an excessive fund balance.  
How long does the PLE exemption last?  Minimize 
If approved, this exemption applies only to a single school-year. Since CEs must recalculate PLE each year and will use the previous year’s calculation as part of this calculation, CEs should consider how an exemption for the current year will impact the PLE calculation for the following year. 

If I have questions about the PLE exemption, what do I do?  Minimize 
Questions about the PLE exemption may be submitted to the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) by email to squaremeals@TexasAgriculture.gov with the subject line "PLE Exemption."

How do I apply for a PLE exemption?  Minimize 

TDA may grant an exemption from the paid lunch equity requirements if a CE

  • is certified as meeting the meal pattern requirements;
  • is taking preparatory steps toward meeting the new Smart Snacks in Schools (competitive foods) standards;
  • has an excessive fund balance—that is, an operating school nutrition fund balance that is greater than three months operating expenses or the CE can demonstrate that increasing the paid meal prices will result in a revenue increase that will cause the CE to exceed three months operating expenses in its school nutrition fund balance;
  • has made efforts to prepare for future meal pattern requirements (e.g., sodium targets.); and
  • has developed strategies that assist the CE in correcting all deficiencies by implementing required corrective actions and addressing any fiscal action identified in an Administrative Review.


The web-based form to apply for an exemption is located in the Texas Unified Programs System (TX-UNPS). TX-UNPS authorized users may access the form inside the Application Module on the Download Forms screen.* After completing the form, the CE will submit the form electronically. TDA will notify the CE if the exemption is approved.


*TX-UNPS > School Nutrition Program > Applications > Download Forms > SNP-108  Paid Lunch Equity (PLE) Exemption

© 2018 Texas Department of Agriculture