The Direct Certification Project
In early 2011, Covering Kids & Families (CKF) was selected by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to carry out the activities of a USDA Planning grant to investigate why the state’s Direct Certification rate remains lower than other states.
Direct Certification is the process by which the names of students enrolled in elementary and secondary schools are matched against the state’s Food Share and Wisconsin Works participant data sets. Matched student names are returned to schools indicating that those children should be automatically certified as eligible for free meals. Direct Certification is intended to remove administrative barriers that may otherwise prevent low-income students receiving free meals at school.
The Direct Certification process became mandatory for participating schools beginning with the 2008-2009 school year. Schools throughout Wisconsin implement the Direct Certification process differently and some struggle to efficiently and effectively complete it each year. Wisconsin became eligible for the USDA Planning grant because that state’s overall rate of directly certifying eligible students was just under the national median.
Through the planning grant CKF and DPI sought to clarify the reasons for the State’s current baseline functioning; to determine why and where there is variance in Direct Certification rates across school districts; to identify potential reasons for gaps in performance; and to develop solutions and suggested goals for improvement. The methods of investigation included: a review of available data and information, concentrated quantitative research via statewide surveys, targeted interviews/focus groups, and discussions with state agency staff and school districts.
In carrying out this grant, CKF drew upon its experience working with schools and districts across Wisconsin gained through the Connecting Health Insurance to Lunch Data (CHILD) project and the more recent Retention and Enrollment to Achieve Child Health and Build Capacity (REACH BC+) project. Grant oversight and management was provided by the Director of the School Nutrition Team at DPI.
In March 2012, DPI was awarded a three-year Implementation grant to put in place many of the recommendations generated through the Planning grant. DPI is again working with CKF to carry out the Direct Certification Implementation grant activities.
Additional information about Direct Certification can also be found on DPI’s DC page.