Direct certification in the national school lunch program expands access for children



Under the policy of direct certification for free school meals, school districts use information shared by state agencies about household eligibility for means-tested programs in the state in order to determine the potential eligibility for free meals of students enrolled in the district. This information allows districts to automatically approve students in these eligible households for free meals without requiring the household to complete the application process. This paper examines the impacts of direct certification on students' likelihood of becoming certified for free meals, using data from a national survey of school food service directors as well as statelevel administrative data on program participation. A state-level fixed effects model is estimated to account for the possibility of selection bias. The key finding is that direct certification leads to a statistically significant increase in the number of children getting free school meals. More generally, this finding highlights a promising approach for improving access to means-tested programs without compromising program integrity. © 2008 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.