Sustaining Changes That Matter: State Agency and Local Sponsor Perspectives on Pandemic-Informed Operations in School Year 2021-2022

Background. The ‚ÄúSustaining The Changes That Matter: State Agency and Local Sponsor Perspectives on Pandemic-Informed Operations in School Year 2021-2022" builds on a previous study focused on first year implementation of pandemic school meals. This follow-up study builds on the previous study's recommendations by gathering perspectives of local sponsors and state agency officials during school year 2021-2022, during which in-person school resumed, waivers expired, and policies continued to evolve.

Methods. This project involved 15 semi-structured, Zoom-based interviews with diverse state agency and local sponsor representatives in 8 states, representing all 7 USDA regions, conducted between December 2021 to June 2022.  Interview guides focused on 4 best practice categories identified in prior work: communications, staffing, partnerships, and financial structures. 

Recommendations. These recommended actions are geared towards State Agencies and entities that support Local Sponsors. 

  1. Facilitate a shift to hybridized, collaborative technical assistance for school meals program staff, including opportunities for peer learning.
  2. Continue investing in web-based, digital tools to streamline auditing, reporting, and general communication.
  3. Support local sponsors in institutionalizing staffing changes, such as streamlining roles and providing higher wages or incentives. This may require advocacy to school districts and state agencies to secure longitudinal funding for sustainability.
  4. Assist local sponsors with formalizing partnerships, particularly with local food vendors and child-serving organization, including creating templates for resource sharing or collaboration agreements and sharing best practices for ensuring mutually beneficial partnerships.
  5. Refine guidance across specific states and districts to be informed by contextual factors such as geography or state-level policy changes.
  6. Permit no-cost healthy meals for all students through state legislation.
  7. Revise federal school meal reimbursements formulas based on current economic conditions and revise formulae in frequent intervals (e.g., bi-annually).