native provisions. We also identified the need for FNS to remove a barrier to the adoption of special provisions for the school meals programs by working with the Department of Education and states to promote the use of data sources other than NSLP counts of free and reduced-price certification for determining eligibility for or otherwise administering a variety of other programs.
The first area for data improvement pertains to the availability of school district-level ACS estimates for percentages of children eligible for free, reduced-price, and full-price meals under the school meals programs. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) already receives such estimates annually from the Census Bureau. However, specifications for these tabulations differ from those used by the panel. While research may improve our specifications in the future, we consider them to be the best available at present for producing estimates that most closely replicate program eligibility rules.
Recommendation 1: The Food and Nutrition Service should work with the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau to produce improved annual school district-level estimates (and their standard errors) for total enrollment and percentages of students eligible for free, reduced-price, and full-price meals under the school meals programs from the American Community Survey. These direct American Community Survey estimates should be based on the approach documented by the panel in its specifications to the Census Bureau (see Appendix D)1 and should be produced for 1, 3, and 5 years of data. The estimates should be publicly available on an annual schedule.
The second area for data improvement concerns the comparability and quality of various administrative data sources, in particular the two sources with school district-level data on enrollment and students certified for free and reduced-price meals—the NCES Common Core of Data (CCD) and form FNS-742.2 These data sources are not easily linked, and once linked, they exhibit troubling discrepancies.
The panel was fortunate to have received from FNS a copy of a May 21, 2010, report entitled VSR-CCD Linkfile.3 This report documents
1 The approach should be augmented as appropriate based on further research.
2 While we refer generically to “school district-level data,” these two data sources actually obtain reports for entities that are not always the same. Form FNS-742 obtains reports for school food authorities (SFAs), while the CCD obtains reports for local education agencies (LEAs). See footnote 3 below for additional detail.
3VSR-CCD Linkfile, a report by Mathematica Policy Research, was delivered to FNS on May 21, 2010, and provided to the panel by FNS. The project director was Nancy Cole. The