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ERIC Number: ED556048
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Sep
Pages: 43
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 24
Free and Reduced-Price Lunch Eligibility Data in Ed"Facts": A White Paper on Current Status and Potential Changes
Hoffman, Lee
Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, US Department of Education
ED"Facts" is an initiative of the U. S. Department of Education to base education policy on reliable performance data provided by state education agencies. Among its many data items, ED"Facts" houses school-level counts of students disaggregated by state-defined student economic status, typically free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) eligibility, that rely upon a link between economic status and some other measure, such as an individual student's reading test score. It is important for the U.S. Department of Education to consider what changes to the accessibility and quality of FRL eligibility data may occur as a result of the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010" ("PL 111-296"), and what other measures of economic disadvantage might be feasible (or improved) alternatives to FRL eligibility. PL 111-296 amends the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. 1759) and includes new provisions for determining FRL eligibility that have the potential to affect the reliability and availability of data to U. S. Department of Education programs participating in ED"Facts". These potential changes are important to federal program and statistical data users and those members of the public who use data on FRL eligibility that the Department publishes. There are three major areas in PL 111-296 that affect data. First, the law encourages more extensive use of direct certification--that is, determining a student's eligibility through documented eligibility for other services such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as the food stamp program) by schools and local education agencies (LEAs). Because direct certification of individual students is based on data that already have been approved by other programs, the method is likely to improve data quality. Second, PL 111-296 introduces the Community Eligibility Option (CEO) that eliminates the requirement for individual eligibility information once a school has determined a baseline percentage of FRL-eligible students. When added to existing eligibility Provisions 2 and 3 of the "National School Lunch Act," which do not require the annual certification of individual students, use of the CEO may result in missing or out-of-date individual FRL eligibility information. Finally, the law directs the U.S. secretary of agriculture to identify alternatives to annual FRL eligibility applications, citing the American Community Survey (ACS) as a possible source of community income statistics that could obviate the need to determine the eligibility of individual students. ED"Facts" does not collect student-level data. However, some of the data reported to ED"Facts", such as the academic performance of different groups of students, are based on student-level information maintained by the state or local education agencies. Federal education policy and program planners will address a number of issues in deciding what, if any, action to take in advance of FRL data changes resulting from the new law. This paper provides background information that is intended to support discussion about the following questions: (1) Is individual student-level FRL eligibility status required by all or only some of the programs that rely on ED"Facts" for their data? Would school estimates of FRL eligible percentages be sufficient for some of these programs? (2) Could state education agencies continue to collect the information now used to directly certify students for FRL--such as SNAP or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) status--if a state or LEA adopted a school lunch program certification method that no longer required individual FRL eligibility data? (3) How do states currently deal with variety in certification methods among their own LEAs and schools? Would these methods be acceptable as variety in certification approaches presumably increases? The purpose of this paper is to examine the current FRL eligibility measure used by ED and the states in order to infer what changes in this measure are likely under PL 111-296 and identify any existing or proposed alternative measures that ED might wish to consider. The report will not address statistical or methodological issues (e.g., the design of proposed validation studies), but will discuss the findings of such studies where they are relevant to FRL eligibility data. The following are appended: (1) Allowed Access to Individual Eligibility Data; (2) State Definitions of Economically Disadvantage for No Child Left Behind Accountability Reporting: School Year 2010-11; and (3) Short Description of the American Community Survey.
Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, US Department of Education. Available from: ED Pubs. Education Publications Center, US Department of Education, NTIS, P.O. Box 22207, Alexandria, VA 22304. Tel: 877-433-7827; Fax: 703-605-6794; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Department of Education (ED), Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development; Applied Engineering Management Corporation (AEM)
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Child Nutrition Act 1966; National School Lunch Act 1946
Grant or Contract Numbers: ED-CFO-10-A-0084