Derivation and Provision of ACS Estimates at the School District Level
Under the proposed AEO, FNS will arrange with the Census Bureau to provide annually for each school district in the country ACS direct estimates and the associated standard errors for the percentage of students in each eligibility category—free, reduced-price, and full-price— prepared according to the panel’s specifications (as updated based on further research). FNS should request that 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year school district-level estimates for all past ACS years, from 2005 through 2011, be made public in 2013, with new estimates being released annually thereafter. Clear lines of communication and authority must be established among FNS, states, local authorities, and the Census Bureau if this new approach is to work effectively. Moreover, there are financial implications, probably for FNS, of commissioning a new set of services from the Census Bureau.
The Census Bureau maintains up-to-date school district boundary information and already provides special tabulations of the ACS for school districts to NCES. The Census Bureau also provides estimates from its Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) Program for all school districts included in its geographic database. Hence, it should be relatively straightforward for the Census Bureau to prepare estimates for school districts according to the panel’s specifications.4
The AEO Calculator
The panel envisions that FNS will provide the AEO Calculator, a web-based tool for districts to use in analyzing the feasibility of the AEO, calculating benchmarked ACS eligibility percentages, and calculating claiming percentages for use under the AEO. The AEO Calculator will enable separate analyses for the NSLP and the SBP, although bench-marked eligibility rates will be the same for both programs. Claiming percentages will be computed using the same eligibility percentages but program-specific participation data. The AEO Calculator also will enable districts currently operating under Provision 2 or 3 to determine whether it would be advantageous for them to switch to the AEO. The AEO Calculator will make district-level ACS estimates available. Districts will need to enter their own certification and participation data, and the Calculator will guide them as to the data that are needed. Ideally, the Calculator will also be a useful tool for FNS and districts to use in communicating about
4 Optimally, NCES and FNS would coordinate their tabulation requests, and both agencies would use the panel’s specifications for eligibility estimates for school meals.