Abstract

This paper examines whether schoolwide free meals affect disciplinary outcomes, focusing on the use of suspensions. 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 school meals. We leverage the staggered rollout of CEP across states and school discipline measures for the near-universe of public schools to assess how disciplinary infractions change within a school as it becomes eligible for CEP. We conclude that schoolwide free meals reduced suspensions statistically significantly for white male elementary students by approximately 17 percent. Point estimates for other subgroups in elementary schools, and overall, are negative but smaller in magnitude; while treatment effects for black students are statistically insignificant, we also cannot rule out equal treatment effects between black and white students. We lack statistical power to rule large positive or negative effects for middle and high school students. The reductions among white students are somewhat larger in areas with high baseline poverty rates, consistent with universal meals programs serving an unmet need.

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