Universal Free Meals: The Effects on Student Participation and Academic Achievement on Low SES Hispanic Students at Waco ISD
Universal access to free school meals is accessible through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), established by the U.S. Department of Education nationwide in 2014. The option allows schools and local education agencies in high-poverty regions to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students during the school year. The policy reduces local administration burdens by eliminating students' annual recertification in need of free meals. In addition, it provides easier access to nutritious meals for low-income students, therefore, incentivizing participation, increasing program revenues, and decreasing the stigma associated with participating in school meal programs. The novel program's goal is to reduce childhood hunger, food insecurity, and poverty in the United States. Many programs, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), have significantly impacted by improving long-term health and economic outcome. When students see nutritional improvements, schools have found fewer school absences. A healthy, balanced diet is reflective of a student's academic success. Hispanic students account for the most significant and fastest-growing population in school enrollment, especially in Texas, but are more likely to live in poverty. This research primarily assesses how the CEP for free breakfast and lunch positively impacts reading scores of low SES Hispanic third to fifth-grade students attending schools at Waco ISD. Waco ISD enacted the CEP policy during the 2018-19 school year (SY); therefore, the goal is to provide a comparative case study of how the CEP has affected Waco ISD elementary schools.