Economic analysis of the impact of free school meal access expansion on elementary school children in community eligibility provision pilot states
Gruber, Anja Felicitas
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In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed to update and improve provisions of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Most prominently, it introduced new meal guidelines and nutritional requirements for school meals. Additionally, it authorized the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) that became available to schools with more than 40 percent of students who are eligible for free school meals, based on federal means-tested program participation, in ten pilot states before it was authorized nationally for school year 2014-15. Schools that opt into the provision are required to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. While a number of studies have established that implementation of the provision leads to increased student participation in school meals, no study is known that empirically analyzes the impact on individual student outcomes. Student-level data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey- K: 2011 is merged with school-level data in six pilot states and a difference-in-difference model estimates the impact of CEP implementation on students' health, academic, and behavioral outcomes. No statistically significant effect of CEP implementation on student outcomes is identified. Additionally, no indication is found, that students who receive free or reduced-price meals before CEP implementation are impacted differently than students who paid full price for school meals is found. Thus, this analysis does not provide any evidence that CEP implementation in fact benefits individual students, either by means of participation increases or reductions in stigma and student body segmentation associated with subsidized school meals. Additionally, it is unlikely that schools gain financially from implementation of the provision. Consequently, this thesis questions that there are any significant returns on this public policy.