It’s known: ‘verification time’ for child nutrition programs is October 1st through November 15th.

That’s the way it’s been throughout most of our careers in child nutrition, and although it can be a hectic time for Local Education Areas (LEAs) as they attempt to reach out to parents and yield higher response rates, it comes with the job. 

Waiting until October 1st to begin the verification process for student meal benefits made sense at one point.

These were the times within which LEAs took a more reactionary approach and waited to find out what the student enrollment numbers were on October 1st – despite being able to generate semi-accurate guesses from the previous year. 

School districts would then base their sample size off of that number, and begin verifying Free and Reduced priced meals right then and there. 

The other option, of course, was for districts to take advantage of the lull between certifying applications and verifying them, or work at slower paces in order to schedule the process to meet verification deadlines. 

This reactionary approach won’t propel any program into the future.

With rising student enrollment patterns expected to carry through to 2025, larger districts are feeling the stretch of a small time constraint to conduct verification, while smaller districts risk stretching their resources and staff thin during these times. 

School districts must begin to work in smarter ways than they have before.

This need for efficiency renders previous practices obsolete frameworks for LEAs, which contribute only to a gap between applications being approved/validated and verified. 

The future of meal claims verification processing is rolling verification – a continuous process for selecting samples on a weekly or monthly basis as soon as batches are validated and approved. 

This process won’t just decrease the administrative burden, it’s a sure fire way to increase your verification response rates. 

How To Conduct a Rolling Verification Process

To reclassify guidelines when conducting verification, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) department released this memo on September 8, 2017.

Below are excerpts and points of clarification garnered through the memo: 

When beginning verification prior to October 1st, LEAs must:

  • Decide how often to sample applications.
  • Include in each sample pool only applications approved since the last sample was selected.
  • Select either 3 percent or 1.5 percent of approved applications, as required by the sampling method, each time. 

The USDA FNS memo also recommends rolling verification particularly for LEAs expecting large verification sample sizes. 

The minimum requirements during the verification process still apply (Note: These are outlined in 7CFR 245.6a (f)(6), (f)(7), and (j)).

USDA’s FNS recommends that if districts adopt rolling verification, they must conduct all steps within the verification process independently and on a rolling basis, as opposed to working off a fixed schedule like those used during the ‘traditional’ verification process. 

This will mean that the one follow-up attempt to contact non-responding households and the 10-day advance notification of a reduction or termination of benefits can work off of a concurrent, streamlined process facilitated through rolling verification. 

As opposed to beginning notification benchmarks on October 1 or any other designated day during the Verification window of October 1st through November 15th, which LEAs may have been previously utilizing. 

Various LEAs throughout the country are already making the move towards rolling verification.

After all, it’s hard to be dissuaded from the move when viewing the results of the USDA School Meal Programs Verification Response Rate Challenge.

This challenge called out to school districts and asked them to share their efforts and successes in securing more verification responses from families. 

The results that made this USDA challenge hard to ignore and brought rolling verification to the forefront? A response rate of 65% within Orange County Public Schools (OCPS), following a previous increase to a 38% response rate the year prior.

Key Strategies to Increase Verification Response Rates

  1. Review the verification plan from the previous year, “tweak it”, then set a goal.
  2. Engage people throughout your district in the process. 

Omaha Public Schools has had success with these goals during the verification process, and recommends reaching out to school secretaries and conducting monthly meetings starting in August and running through the month of November. 

Additionally, greater accessibility will guarantee higher response rates. It’s important to ensure your school district has adequate resources to help parents and guardians.

These include bilingual liaisons in schools and English as a Second Language (ESL) offices, if applicable. 

Accessibility is such a determinant of response rates that diversifying the way you reach out to families is incredibly important as well. 

In a recent SNA webinar, Omaha Public Schools suggested to begin sending notifications as early as possible and through as many mediums as possible up to the last day of the verification deadline – it’s not over until it’s over. 

Have you or your district implemented rolling verification? What are your experiences during the verification process? 

Check out SchoolCafé Eligibility and Mobile Verification that puts the power of uploading documents and receiving notifications – right onto a parent’s phone.

For further ideas on how you can increase verification responses, check out the additional resource links below.

In the mean time, don’t forget to comment and share any helpful tips or stories about how you’ve improved your verification process!