lose institutional knowledge and encounter difficulties in processing applications, and families are no longer accustomed to completing them.

A special provision that does not require applications to be taken every few years would further reduce burden, be more attractive to school districts, and potentially increase student participation by expanding access to free meals. To support the development of such a provision, the Food and Nutrition Service asked the National Academies’ Committee on National Statistics and Food and Nutrition Board to convene a panel of experts to study the technical and operational issues that arise in using data from the American Community Survey (ACS)—a new continuous survey replacing the long-form survey of the decennial census—to obtain estimates of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals for schools and school districts. Such estimates would be used to develop “claiming percentages” that, if sufficiently accurate, would determine federal reimbursements to districts for the schools that provide free meals to all students under a new special provision that eliminates the base-year requirements of current provisions.

The panel is conducting the study in three phases and will issue three reports. This first report, released at the end of the panel’s first year, presents in detail our technical approach to conducting the study. A final report, to be released at the end of the second year, will present findings from empirical analyses, including results from case studies of five or six school districts, and the panel’s recommendations for estimation methods and processes. Because the Census Bureau is not scheduled to release the first set of 5-year period estimates from the ACS until December 2010, those estimates will not be available in time for us to use in the analyses in our final report. The panel will therefore publish an addendum to the final report about 9 months after the release of the 5-year ACS estimates.

To develop methods for deriving eligibility estimates for the school meals programs, the panel will assess which combination of ACS variables most closely reflects the eligibility criteria of the programs, working with the Census Bureau to obtain ACS estimates for school districts. School district boundaries are maintained in the bureau’s geographic database (Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing, TIGER) and are updated every 2 years.

It is likely that some adjustments and other improvements of ACS estimates will be needed, and the panel will evaluate these improvements. For example, an adjustment might be needed to improve the estimation of program eligibility, which is determined by monthly income, from the annual income data collected in the ACS. To improve the precision of ACS estimates, which are likely to have large sampling errors for individual schools and even many school districts, the panel will investigate the use of small-domain estimation methods based on extensions of the methods

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