- A study appearing in a National Bureau of Economic Research brief last week examined schools that participated in the Community Eligibility Provision, which provides free meals to all students in high-poverty schools, to determine the impact of the program on suspension rates at schools, Chalkbeat reports.
- The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, estimates that a student’s chances of receiving multiple out-of-school suspensions were reduced by about a third of a percentage point at the elementary level and about a half a percentage point at the middle school level. However, the study showed no effect on the number of students suspended only one time or on the number of students suspended at the high school level.
- The study, which was based on self-reported federal civil rights data, tried to account for the fact that, during the time period of the study, schools were already making efforts at reducing out-of-school suspensions.
This study adds to the growing body of research related to the potential benefits of offering free meals to all students at a school. The Community Eligibility Provision was initiated to help eliminate the shame associated with receiving free meals and to encourage more families to take advantage of the free food offered at schools so that students would not go hungry. Previous studies of the program have indicated modest benefits to academic performance and student health.
Another recent study, however, indicates that nationally, nearly half of qualifying schools are not participating in the universal free meals program. According to an Chalkbeat, that's likely because since schools are not fully reimbursed for the meals, it's not a cost-effective option for them. It's also possible that school officials think there's a stigma associated with the program.
Whatever studies reveal, teachers are aware that many students are coming to school hungry. According to a 2013 survey from Share Our Strength, No Kid Hungry, six in 10 K-8 public school teachers say that students regularly come to school hungry because they are not getting enough to eat at home. Hunger affects student attitudes and their ability to concentrate. The effect is greatest for younger students, especially as long-term exposure to hunger can effect brain development. One option for schools that can't afford to offer free meals to all students is to extend the time students have to eat school breakfast in the morning, A another recent study showed that participation in the breakfast program increased when schools offered extra time after the bell.