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Feb 1 -- The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), invites comments by April 3, 2023 regarding its proposed School Meals Operations Study: Evaluation of the School-based Child Nutrition Programs.

FNS administers the school-based Child Nutrition (CN) Programs (i.e., the school meal programs) in partnership with States and local SFAs. Section 28(a) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act authorizes the USDA Secretary to conduct annual national performance assessments of the school meal programs. FNS plans to conduct this annual assessment through the SMO Study in SY 2023-2024. This notice covers the fourth year of the SMO Study, which will collect data from State and local agencies on the CN COVID-19 waivers as well as data on state and local CN Program operations during SY 2022-2023. Data collection will occur in SY 2023-2024.

The fourth year of the SMO Study is a minor revision of a currently approved collection for the SMO Study. The SMO study is designed to collect timely data on the continued use and effectiveness of the CN COVID-19 waivers as well as policy, administrative, and operational issues in the school-based CN Programs, which contributes to budget preparation, development and implementation of program policy and regulations, and identification of areas for technical assistance and training. This study will help FNS obtain:

1. General descriptive data on the characteristics of CN Programs to inform the budget process and answer questions about topics of current policy interest;
2. Data on Program operations to identify potential topics for training and technical assistance for SFAs and State agencies (SAs) responsible for administering the CN Programs;
3. Administrative data to identify program trends and predictors;
4. Information on the use and effectiveness of the CN COVID-19 waivers.

The activities to be conducted subject to this notice include:

-- Collecting disaggregated administrative data from 67 State Agency Directors that are currently only reported in aggregate on forms FNS-10, Report of School Program Operations, FNS-418, Report of the Summer Food Service Program for Children, and FNS-44, Report of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (which are approved under OMB# 0584-0594, Food Programs Reporting System (FPRS), expiration date 07/31/2023)
-- Conducting a web survey of 54 State CN Directors
-- Conducting a web survey of 1,266 SFA Directors

To reduce data collection burden on SFAs, the SMO Study will analyze existing administrative data collected from SAs which will limit the number and type of questions included in surveys to SAs and SFAs. To facilitate data collection, SAs will receive an agenda for initial telephone meetings and a template for the data request. The data request template will link each data element to the corresponding item number on forms FNS-10, FNS-418, and FNS-44. Examples of the types of data that the administrative request will respond to include number of schools and students participating in the meal programs and the number of meals served under the meal programs.

SMO will also conduct surveys of a census of SAs and a nationally representative sample of SFAs on key topics identified annually. Recruitment will be a three-step process. First, data collection will begin with an email to regional offices requesting their assistance by sending a letter of support to States. Next, the study team will send an advance letter to the States that describes the study and asks CN Directors to send a letter of support to SFAs. Third, the study team will send an invitation to States and SFAs to complete the web survey. To maximize the opportunity to reach all respondents, the study team will attempt to contact them by mail, email, and phone. Participants will be able to complete the survey on the web, in hard copy, or over the phone.

The goal of data collection for the SMO Study is to respond to annual research questions on the following topics: (1) school participation, (2) student participation, (3) meal counting, (4) financial management, and (5) program integrity. This revision covers data collection for one school year, with revisions of surveys and administrative data collection instruments from previous years.
Previous SMO Study data collections https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAOMBHistory?ombControlNumber=0584-0607
Draft data collection instruments and technical documentation requested from FNS by AEAStat.
FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-02055

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