School Nutrition and Student Discipline: Effects of Schoolwide Free Meals
Under the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), schools serving sufficiently high-poverty populations may enroll their entire student bodies in free lunch and breakfast programs, extending free meals to some students who would not qualify individually and potentially decreasing the stigma associated with free meals. We examine whether CEP affects disciplinary outcomes, focusing on the use of suspensions. We use school discipline measures from the Civil Rights Data Collection and rely on the timing of pilot implementation of CEP across states to assess how disciplinary infractions evolve within a school as it adopts CEP. We find modest reductions in suspension rates among elementary and middle but not high school students. While we are unable to observe how the expansion of free school meals affects the dietary intake of students in our national sample, we do observe that for younger students, these reductions are concentrated in areas with higher levels of estimated child food insecurity. Our findings suggest that the impact of school-based child nutrition services extends beyond the academic gains identified in some of the existing literature.
We are grateful to Avi Feller, Hilary Hoynes, Michah Rothbart, Jesse Rothstein, Amy Ellen Schwartz, Chris Walters and seminar and conference participants at American University, UC-Berkeley, George Washington University, Georgetown University, and the Association for Education Finance and Policy for helpful comments. Any errors are our own. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.