NEPC Review: Measuring Student Poverty: Developing Accurate Counts for School Funding, Accountability, and Research (Urban Institute, December 2019)
An Urban Institute report highlights how legislative changes have led to the steady decline of the use of participation in the free- and reduced-price lunch (FRPL) program as a measure of student poverty. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act mandates that schools enrolled in CEP have at least 40% of their students eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch in the year before enrolling. CEP schools provide free breakfasts and lunches to all students regardless of any given student’s household income or enrollment in safety net programs. Thus FRPL participation is 100% in a school and can no longer be sensibly used as a poverty measure. In looking at how states now make poverty-related determinations for school funding and accountability purposes, the report provides an important snapshot of the crazy quilt pattern of enrollment in safety net programs. However, the report does not take a clear position on a question that should significantly influence its methods, conclusions, and impact: Is it sufficient to rely on enrollment in safety net programs to define and measure student poverty, or is a change needed in its definition and measurement?