listened to presentations from the Government Accountability Office concerning its evaluations of the school meals programs and learned about the ACS group quarters data and plans for the future of the ACS from the Census Bureau. We sought information about administrative data from FNS and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) concerning the number of schools in districts, enrollment, percentages of students certified as eligible for free meals, and percentages certified as eligible for reduced-price meals. We compared these data and found that although they are frequently consistent, they conflict more often than we expected.
The panel collected a considerable amount of data to support the study. Five case study districts—Austin, Texas; Chatham County, Georgia; Norfolk, Virginia; Omaha, Nebraska; and Pajaro Valley, California—were recruited to provide detailed information concerning school attendance area boundaries, enrollment, number of children certified as eligible for free meals, and number certified as eligible for reduced-price meals, as well as number of meals served by eligibility category. The case study districts were chosen from medium-sized and large enrollment districts in which at least 25 percent of schools had free and reduced-price eligibility percentages greater than 75 percent, and at least 25 percent of schools had free and reduced-price eligibility percentages less than 50 percent. Because these districts have a substantial number of schools where the AEO is likely to be too expensive to implement (free and reduced-price percentage less than 50 percent) and a substantial number of schools where the AEO may be economically viable (free and reduced-price percentage greater than 75 percent), we thought these districts might represent those that would be interested in the AEO for a group of schools rather than the entire district.
The panel also worked with the Census Bureau and NCES to obtain ACS estimates and standard errors prepared according to our specifications (see Appendix D) for public school enrollment and percentage of students eligible for free, reduced-price, and full-price meals for all school districts in the country and for schools with attendance boundaries in the case study districts. In addition, the Census Bureau provided model-based estimates for percentages eligible for free and for reduced-price meals. We conducted extensive data analysis in formulating our conclusions.
The panel also conducted a workshop with school food authority directors from our case study districts, school food authority directors from districts with experience in using Provision 2, and one state representative. The purpose of the workshop was to help us understand local issues pertaining to a potential new provision such as the AEO, and to learn what information school districts would need to help them decide whether to adopt such a new provision. We also conducted a survey of