School Meals, Educational Achievement and School Competition
Evidence from a Randomized Evaluation
This paper examines the effects of subsidized school meals on school participation, educational achievement, and school finance in a developing country setting. The paper uses data from a program that was implemented in 25 randomly chosen preschools in a pool of 50.
Children's school participation was 30 percent higher in the treatment group than in the comparison group. The meals program led to higher curriculum test scores, but only in schools where the teacher was relatively experienced prior to the program. The school meals displaced teaching time and led to larger class sizes. Despite improved incentives, teacher absenteeism remained at a high level of 30 percent. Treatment schools raised their fees, and comparison schools close to treatment schools decreased their fees. Some of the price effects are due to a combination of capacity constraints and pupil transfers that would not happen if the school meals were offered in all schools. The intention-to-treat estimator of the effect of the randomized program incorporates those price effects, and therefore it should be considered a lower bound on the effect of generalized school meals. This insight on price effects generalizes to other randomized program evaluations.