how to link data from form FNS-742 across years and with data from the CCD, and an accompanying data file provides the information needed to link data for several years from the two sources. We used the report and file in developing the database that supported all of our comparative analyses. FNS and NCES should build on this work to better align the two data collection systems. In particular, FNS should consider requiring school food authorities (SFAs) to make use of their NCES ID when submitting data. The NCES IDs would need to be adapted to cases in which SFAs and local education agencies (LEAs) are not the same. This would greatly facilitate appropriate linkage between the two systems.

CCD and FNS-742 data on enrollments and numbers of students certified for free and reduced-price meals differ substantially for some school districts. There is officially a 1-month time lag between the reporting periods for the two data sets that might explain some of the differences.4 In some districts, however, the data are identical. In these cases, either the districts are not observing the reporting date distinctions or the data are the same at the beginning and the end of October. NCES should consider changing its reporting date for certification data from the school meals programs to align with the date used for form FNS-742.

Another reason for differences between CCD and FNS-742 data is that even in districts where the SFA and LEA are the same, one or more schools in the LEA may not participate in the school meals programs, and one or more schools in the SFA may not be regular schools in the LEA. These differences should be noted in the data sets. Additionally, both sources could be improved by incorporating specific indicators for data that are missing versus true zeros, and both systems would benefit from improved editing to address data entry errors.

Recommendation 2: The Food and Nutrition Service and the National Center for Education Statistics should work together with their respondents—states and school districts—to understand the differences between reporting in the Common Core of Data and on form FNS-742, and implement improvements to make the two data sources as consistent as possible while clearly documenting necessary and legitimate distinctions between them.

report notes reasons for differences between Verification Summary Report (VSR) data (from form FNS-742) and CCD data. It explains that while there was usually a one-to-one match, the primary exceptions occurred when SFA operations were centralized for multiple school districts. Places where this was common include Montana, New Hampshire, and New York City. In 2008-2009, there were 14,717 (unduplicated) SFAs in the VSR file, 95.5 percent of which matched with the CCD data.

4 CCD data are to be reported as of October 1, or the closest school day to October 1, while the FNS-742 data are to be reported as of the last operating day in October.

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