Our new report explains how states and school districts can obtain data on the family incomes of students in schools that adopt community eligibility, which allows schools in high-poverty neighborhoods to offer nutritious meals to all students at no charge.
A key benefit of community eligibility is that participating schools don’t have to collect school meal applications. But that means these schools no longer have the family income data from those applications, which some states use to allocate education funding and some school districts use for other purposes, such as monitoring student achievement.
Alternative data sources are available to meet these needs, our report explains. One example is a school’s “Identified Student Percentage,” the share of its students that other need-based programs have identified as automatically eligible for free school meals. That figure is highly reliable and readily available for every school, whether it offers community eligibility or not.
The positive experience of states and school districts that have already implemented community eligibility shows that the loss of school meal application data shouldn’t dissuade others from adopting community eligibility.