Urban Review: Pizza and Potholes, The School Voucher Families Really Need and More


This week, scenes from Florence's devastation, how mayors responded to a pizza chain publicity stunt, research on expanded school lunch program and the school voucher families really need.

Kids eating lunch at school

This week, scenes from Florence's devastation, how mayors responded to a pizza chain publicity stunt, research on expanded school lunch program and the school voucher families really need.

Title Page

Scenes From a Faded Motel Sheltering Florence Evacuees. New York Times.


What American's Mayors Think of Domino's Pothole-Paving Publicity Stunt. Eater.

But beneath the surface, the willingness for cities to take this money is an indictment on the state of American infrastructure funding. Several mayors suggested that getting the money to keep streets in good condition was a major challenge, in some cases blaming a lack of funding from states, or the general difficulties of raising enough tax money to keep roads from falling apart.

Executive Summary

This school year, the Houston Independent School District, one of the largest in the nation, tried something different. Though the majority of its student qualify for free and reduced lunch, following Hurricane Harvey, the district decided to offer school breakfast, lunch and dinner after school for free for all students, regardless of income. The federal Community Eligibility Provision program allows the district to offer this and new research suggests that expanding student access to free meals can have big impacts.

In a working paper put out by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers examined the relationship between free meals and school discipline. Existing research already provided some evidence that access to free lunch could be correlated to academic gains. But this analysis reveals benefits beyond just test scores, showing that offering lunch to all students can be linked to reductions in out-of-school suspensions.

The authors note that happening parallel to the introduction of universal lunch in some cases was a widespread effort to reduce school suspensions during the study period, which used data from 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. Still, there are signs that the benefits observed here can be, at least partly, linked to the expanded access to food. For example, the researchers note, "We find significantly larger reductions for elementary students in areas with high estimated child food insecurity, on the order of 25 percent."

Summarizing the results on Chalkbeat, Matt Barnum wrote, "There was some evidence that making entire schools eligible for free lunch reduced in-school suspensions, too, but the program didn’t seem to reduce the number of students who were suspended just once or have any effect on suspensions in high school."

Barnum also noted that while the community eligibility program has grown, "nearly half of eligible schools didn't participate" as recently as the 2016-2017 school year.


The current federal administration has shown a fondness for vouchers that would give students funds to attend private schools. But Andre Perry, writing for the Hechinger Report, argues that the voucher program parents actually need is for after-school care. "Students’ social and economic needs don’t end in the afternoon, and neither should the safety net that public schools provide," writes Perry.

After school care is prohibitively expensive for many families and the availability of such programs is unequal. Meanwhile, wealthy families and schools are able to fund and organize enriching after-school opportunities, driving inequities that don't always show up in simple measures like per-student funding. And that situation could become more dire, explains Perry:

If there was ever something families needed a federal safety net for, it is for after-school programs. The federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, which helps states fund some out-of-school initiatives including afterschool programs, is guaranteed in the budget through 2019. The proposed Trump-DeVos FY19 budget would eliminate the program entirely as part of $7.1 billion in suggested cuts to the Department of Education, causing 1.6 million children across the country to lose programs, some free, the funding currently subsidizes. Even if the grant program continues, it’s a drop in the bucket for what states really need to meet the needs of families.


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