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Healthy Eating Research has recently published a study that aims to provide an overview of the approaches to universal free school meal benefits, the intersections between universal free school meals and education funding, and outline opportunities for policy and practices to address these intersections to improve overall access to school meals. It is also intended to inform ongoing Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) policy discussions.

Healthy Eating Research has recently published a study that aims to provide an overview of the approaches to universal free school meal benefits, the intersections between universal free school meals and education funding, and outline opportunities for policy and practices to address these intersections to improve overall access to school meals. It is also intended to inform ongoing Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) policy discussions.

Background and Implementation of the Study

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA issued nationwide waivers that allowed schools to serve universal free meals to all students through June 30, 2022. Schools that operated under this waiver did not have to collect applications to determine eligibility for free or reduced-price meals (FRPM). While this waiver has shown to benefit students and schools, the loss of the application data, which is used to allocate billions annually in education funding, has created confusion to how to direct funding and has prevented many schools from adopting the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) that allowed schools in high-poverty areas to serve universal free meals. This research brief aims to clarify some of these confusions.

The Findings

  • Universal free school meals can improve nutrition, behavior, academic performance, and strengthen school finances.
  • Efforts must be made to separate FRPM application data from education funding so that more schools can adopt universal school meal provisions and preserve education funding.

In Conclusion

These findings suggest that something needs to be done to address issues related to this intersection. The brief recommends that there needs to be further research done to develop alternative measures of poverty and economic well-being to allocate funding. Finally, it concludes that misconceptions about the impacts of universal free meals on education funding needs to be addressed through clear and strong messaging campaigns.

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