The U.S. Department of Education updated guidance this week regarding how districts should calculate indicators which require data on the number of low-income students in a school or district. Under normal circumstances, many districts rely on free- and reduced-price school meal data to make these determinations. However, school meal programs have operated under a waiver for the past two school years which allow schools to serve free meals to all students, obviating the need to collect individual student data.
The guidance primarily extends existing flexibilities, allowing districts to account for missing 2020-21 or 2021-22 National School Lunch Program (NSLP) data in many cases by using alternate options including:
- Poverty data from other sources, including Medicaid or TANF;
- The “best available” NSLP data, including data from the 2019-20 school year;
- Any NSLP data from a more recent school year that may be accessible, for example direct certification data;
- A combination of the best available NSLP data from 2019-20, 2020-21, and 2021-22, or
- Data from a survey conducted by the State or district which replicates NSLP data.
Some form of this alternate data can be used to determine eligibility and allocations for Title I, Title II, and the Rural, Low-Income Schools Program. It may also be used in some cases to adjust allocations for small districts, for within-district allocations, or to calculate allowances for equitable services. ED acknowledges that use implementation of this guidance “may result in using the same NSLP data several years in a row” but argues that in many federal programs, multi-year status determinations are the norm.
The updated NSLP guidance is available here.