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Factors Associated with Universal Free School Meal Provision Adoption among US Public Schools

Published:August 02, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2021.06.282

      Abstract

      Background

      The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows high-poverty schools participating in US Department of Agriculture meal programs to offer universal free school meals. Emerging evidence suggests benefits of CEP for student meal participation, behavior, and academic performance. Although CEP became available nationwide in 2014, in school year 2019–2020, one third of eligible schools were not participating.

      Objective

      This study evaluates which school, district, and state factors are associated with CEP participation.

      Design

      Cross-sectional study comparing CEP-participating with eligible nonparticipating schools to assess the relationship between CEP participation and school, district, and state factors.

      Participants

      US public schools eligible for CEP in school year 2017–2018 (n = 42,813).

      Main Outcome Measures

      CEP participation.

      Statistical Analyses Performed

      Penalized regression variable selection methods to determine which factors contribute information to the model. Generalized logistic regression to predict odds of CEP participation unadjusted and adjusted for each factor in the full sample and in stratified analyses by whether a state was part of the CEP phase-in period (early vs late implementing states).

      Results

      In the full sample, adjusted odds of CEP participation were greater in states where CEP had been available longer (odds ratio [OR], 1.50; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.34, 1.67). In late implementing states, adjusted odds of CEP participation were higher in schools with more students directly certified for free meals (OR in schools with 80%–89% vs 30%–39% directly certified: 19.32; 95% CI, 12.98, 28.76), Title I schools (OR, 1.85; 95% CI, 1.55, 2.21), and urban schools (OR suburban vs urban, 0.46; 95% CI, 0.36, 0.59). Differences by school level, enrollment, district size, student race/ethnicity, and geographic region also existed.

      Conclusions

      Findings may help advocates, state agencies, and policymakers understand potential barriers to adoption and guide research exploring effective strategies to promote uptake. Future research should use qualitative and longitudinal designs to explore barriers to adoption, including cost and state and local policies.

      Keywords

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      Biography

      A. A. Hecht is a postdoctoral fellow, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI.

      Biography

      S. A. Stuart is a professor, Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.

      Biography

      K. M. Pollack Porter is a professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.