What is Direct Certification?
Direct Certification is the process where a school district can automatically qualify a student for free lunches. It cross-references their student’s information with their family’s participation with SNAP or other program assistance.
Accessing and verifying by direct certification is easier than ever. In 2006, Oregon received a grant from the USDA to create a Website/database that allows school districts to access specific direct certification related information posted by other state agencies such as DHS.
In 2005, the USDA mandated a phased-in requirement that as of July, 2008, all school districts in the country must maximize direct certification processes and data match all eligible children. Despite this requirement, some school districts are in better shape than others in terms of complying. Given this reality what can you do?
What Can I Do?
If your program location is already located in, or going to be located in an area that’s just on the verge of qualifying- say 46% Free and Reduced lunch or higher- working with your school districts to ensure they’re complying with the USDA requirements is a great place to start.
However, differing administrative capacities make predicting their ability to assist you difficult. Here are a few suggested actions to help target a specific area for direct certification.
Collaborate with others
Having more than a few invested community members and partners approach the school district in the effort to maximize the use if direct certification is going to be better than a lone voice.
Have some specific questions
Look at the best practices list for direct certification below and frame some of your questions from them- particularly about their use and frequency of use of the ODE database (annually vs. quarterly, etc.) Remember while they’re required to do this, many of the smaller school districts might just not have the administrative capacity to comply at the level other school districts can. Understanding this and approaching them from an empathetic position is probably a good idea.
School districts are under increased pressure to meet various unfunded mandates with shrinking budgets. Any request could be met with some reluctance. Realizing this up front is good knowledge to have. We suggest a research about how the direct certification process is going at your local school district might be useful before approaching them.
Emphasize the positive impacts
Beyond the nutritional benefits, direct certification helps bring more free federal dollars into your community and into the school districts budgets. For instance, it can increase the school’s ability to compete for Title I funds and other funding tied to F/R eligible children enrolled in school.
Best Practices for Direct Certification.
Those school districts better meeting the requirement typically have several things in common in that they:
- Emphasize database use- instead of a letter sent home for families to have to return
- Conduct frequent data matches- throughout the school year using the Oregon direct certification database
- Directly certify all children in the household- based on a data match of any child in the household
- Disregard paper applications- that are submitted by households that could be directly certified
- Evaluation procedures- consistently assess the percentage of children in households receiving food stamp benefits who are being directly certified, and take steps to reach a greater share
The Benefits of Implementing Direct Certification
To the school:
- Increases the number of children eligible to receive free meals
- Increases participation in federal nutrition programs including the Meal Program
- Increases the school’s total federal reimbursement for meals and snacks
- Reduces the paperwork associated with certifying children for free meals and snacks
- Increase the school’s ability to compete for Title I funds and other funds tied to free and reduced-price eligible children enrolled in school
To the student:
- Maximizes the participants learning potential through better nutrition
- Streamlines the process for getting meals
- Reduces the worry of filling out multiple applications
- Decreased the chance of a child losing the application between home and school
California Department of Education. Nutrition Services Division. (2008) Direct Certification Implementation Checklist.
Department of Agriculture. Food and Nutrition Service. Office of Research and Analysis. (2009) Direct Certification in the National School Lunch Program: State Implementation Progress Report. Nutrition Assistance Program Report Series. Report CN-09-DC.
Neuberger, Zoe. (2006) Implementing Direct Certification: States and School Districts Can Help Low-Income Children Get The Free School Meals for Which They are Eligible. Center on Budget and Policy Priority Reports.
California Food Policy Council (2008) Direct Certification Fact Sheet. Retrieved from www.cfpa.net/School_Food/DirectCert/Fact%20sheet.pdf