Panel: The Effects of Schoolwide Free Meals Under the Community Eligibility Provision
(Poverty and Income Policy)

Saturday, November 10, 2018: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
8206 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Chairs:  Katherine Ralston, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Discussants:  Constance Lindsay, Urban Institute and James P. Ziliak, University of Kentucky

A Free Lunch: School Meal Uptake and Student Achievement Under the Community Eligibility Provision
Sarah Crittenden Fuller and Aubrey Comperatore, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Do Universal Free Meals Improve Student Academic and Health Outcomes? Evidence from the Community Eligibility Provision
Amy Ellen Schwartz, Michah W. Rothbart and Emily Gutierrez, Syracuse University

School Nutrition and Student Discipline: Effects of Schoolwide Free Meals
Nora Gordon, Georgetown University and Krista Ruffini, University of California, Berkeley

The School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch program are two of the nation’s largest nutritional assistance programs serving school-aged children. On a typical day in 2017, the majority of students consumed a school lunch and 75 percent of these lunches were provided at no cost to the student. Historically, eligibility for free school meals depended on a student’s self-reported family income.


As part of the 2010 school meal reauthorization legislation, the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allowed schools where at least 40 percent of students received SNAP and other income assistance programs to provide universal free breakfasts and lunches to all students, regardless of individual income. This reform was rolled out in stages so that schools in several states became newly eligible in each of the 2012, 2013, and 2014 school years, and schools in all states were eligible in the 2015 school year.


The papers in this panel will explore the extent to which increased access to nutritional assistance via the Community Eligibility Provision affects various student outcomes, motivated by existing literature documenting a strong negative association between food insecurity and student performance, health outcomes, and behaviors (Alaimo, et al., 2001; Case, et al., 2005; Jyoti, et al., 2005). Though national implementation is relatively recent, this panel brings together four papers studying the effects of CEP in the pilot states, to inform implementation as the program grows in scale.


Two of the papers draw on rich student-level state administrative education data to compare how students fare in schools that participate in CEP. Fuller and Comperatore study the experience of CEP schools in North Carolina, and Kho in Tennessee. In both cases, they determine which schools are eligible for CEP based on the school-level Identified Student Percentage (ISP), and estimate a difference-in-difference treatment on the treated effect, using data from before and after their states began to participate in the pilot. These papers examine outcomes including student achievement, attendance, student discipline, and grade progression, with attention to heterogeneity of treatment depending on individual student characteristics (including meal uptake) and local context.

Rothbart, Schwartz, and Gutierrez combine data on 698 school districts in New York State from 2009-2017, from the NYS Departments of Education and Health, NYS Comptroller, and the American Community Survey. Data include student demographics, school meal participation rates, enrollment, financial resources, test scores and obesity rates. They also use school-level data on demographics, meals participation rates, enrollments, and test scores to explore heterogeneity in estimated effects.


Gordon and Ruffini combine national school-level student discipline data from the Civil Rights Data Collection with data from the states on CEP eligibility and participation and the school level. Their sample spans schools throughout the United States during the period of staggered rollout across pilot states, so they can estimate intent-to-treat effects of CEP eligibility, comparing changes in discipline in demographically similar schools, where eligibility differences depend on state pilot timing.

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