Not Just for Poor Kids: The Impact of Universal Free School Breakfast on Meal Participation and Student Outcomes
39 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2011
Date Written: September 7, 2011
This paper examines the impact of the adoption of a universal free breakfast policy on student breakfast participation, attendance, and academic achievement. We examine a 2003 New York City policy change that made school breakfast free for all students regardless of income while increasing the price of lunch for those who pay full price. Using a difference-in-difference estimation strategy, we derive plausibly causal estimates of the policy’s impact by exploiting within and between group variation in school meal pricing before and after the policy change. We conduct school-level analyses of the policy’s impact on breakfast participation, and student-level analyses to explore the impact on attendance and test scores.
Our estimates suggest that universal free breakfast increased breakfast participation both for students who experienced a decrease in the price of breakfast and for free-lunch eligible students who experienced no price change. The latter suggests that universal provision may alter behavior through mechanisms other than price, perhaps through a decrease in stigma, highlighting the potential merits of universal provision over and above targeted services. Our analysis also suggests that the policy change had a small positive effect on attendance for black and Asian students.
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