The quality of an estimate has many determinants, including the data sources that are inputs to the estimate and the underlying models used to generate the estimate. Survey estimates, for example, are subject to errors that arise in the survey process of sampling a population, obtaining data from the sampled households, and processing the collected data to create an analysis data set. Errors in administrative databases arise from the fact that most of these databases were not created to be analyzed as a whole, but rather to manage individual cases. Attention has seldom been given to editing the data in a unified way, so there may be many data entry or other errors. A survey or administrative database will record information on variables to measure concepts that are developed for specific applications, and these variables may not match the programmatic intent of the school meals programs. Another part of the process will involve identifying which records in a survey or administrative database are associated with the school district or school based on some geographic domain, and this will also be subject to error. Finally, when estimates for small populations, such as small school districts or individual schools, are needed, the estimation method will almost certainly involve some form of statistical model that specifies a structure to approximate—with error—the observed relationships in the population.

While this list may seem extensive, the current procedures for certification and meal counting in the school meals program, for example, are subject to their own errors associated with administrative processes that involve parents, students, lunch room staff, and office staff. The Access, Participation, Eligibility, and Certification (APEC) study (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, 2007b) has shown that the error rates and costs associated with these processes can be large. Thus, it is our intent to identify a method for implementing a new special provision that improves on the current approach in a cost-effective manner.

The chapter next describes the policy and decision-making context in which Provision 4 will be considered and summarizes the challenges associated with the current approaches to determining the proper reimbursements to school districts. The remainder of the chapter discusses various dimensions of quality that will be considered and outlines proposed approaches for evaluating the quality of the potential methods for estimating claiming percentages for Provision 4.

POLICY AND DECISION-MAKING CONTEXT

To promote improved learning and nutrition among school-age children, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) provide free and reduced-price meals to needy children. Under the traditional rules and procedures for operating the school meals programs, school districts serve as local administrators of the program



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