Taking a closer look: School lunch program

Posted: July 21, 2007 in Uncategorized

The free or reduced lunch program in schools across the United States is designed to kids who come from low-income families. While this program has been a big help for truly needy families, there are also a significant number of kids who do not belong on this program. After a recent discussion with a public school employee, I was prompted to do some digging.

Free Lunch

Title I’s formula for determining aid — and its recipe for fraud. (Lisa Snell)

Individual schools receive Title I funding based on the percentage of students that are eligible for the federally subsidized free-lunch program. Though the lunch program is designed to provide food to low-income students who might otherwise go hungry, its guidelines do not require schools to verify the parental income of students who enroll. The process to qualify for a free lunch comes down to parents self-reporting their income on a form that is turned in to their local school. Federal free-lunch program administrators argue that the program has little potential for abuse because “the worst that happens is a kid gets a free lunch.”

Federal free-lunch data, however, are used as one of the main poverty indicators for school districts and are linked to many other local, state, and federal funding streams. So any fraud in the free-lunch program is quickly multiplied. And rest assured that school districts recognize the program’s multiplier effect and work hard to sign up students. Consider this typical account from the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times last summer: “When Gulf High School assistant principal Pat Haynes sees needy children lunching on cookies or a bag of chips, she knows the kids are jeopardizing more than just good nutrition. Those kids are also cutting into their school’s ability to cash in on its share of millions of dollars in grants and government rebates designed to benefit low-income schools.” (more…)

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Do Too Many Kids Get A Free Lunch?

U.S.: Up To 27% Of Children In Program May Be Ineligible (2003)

(AP) More than a fourth of the 28 million children who eat free or discounted school lunches might be ineligible, and the Bush administration is considering rules to reserve the meal programs for children of families who prove their low incomes.

The number of children enrolled in the program nationwide exceeds the number in low-income families who would be eligible for it, based on a comparison of the school lunch enrollment figures with an annual survey by the Census Bureau, said Jean Daniel, an Agriculture Department spokeswoman.

Officials have calculated that as many as 27 percent of children now getting free or reduced-price meals are ineligible, she said. (more…)

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Auditor questions distribution of school poverty dollars (Nate Jenkins)

7/16/07

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – State Auditor Mike Foley questions whether millions of state tax dollars intended to aid impoverished students are going where they are needed the most.

An audit of the state Department of Education reveals “troubling inaccuracies” in the number of kids who receive free or reduced-price school lunches under a federal program and the number who may actually qualify for the program, Foley said.

For example, in the Lincoln district more than 60 percent of students in a sample group of kids were found to be ineligible for the lunch program as part of a different audit, Foley said.

The number of students enrolled in the federal free-lunch program is the main factor used by the state to determine how much districts get from the roughly $21.5 million pool of state tax dollars annually targeted at poverty students.

The percentage of children in Nebraska found to be ineligible for the free-lunch program through reviews of sample groups shows the error rate in Nebraska – 21 percent – is on par with the national average, according to a federal review of the program.

Foley said he thinks the inaccuracies in the lunch program numbers could mean the state money is being distributed unfairly.

“Some districts are getting too much and some aren’t getting their fair share,” Foley said. “Is it really getting to districts in the right allocation?” (more…)

And lastly, why is the DOE (Department of Education) involved with food distribution…DURING THE SUMMER WHEN SCHOOL IS OUT???

Isn’t this covered by our food stamp program?

(California)

“Fewer youths in lunch program”

(Washington D.C.)

Meal Program Expects Increase

(New York)

Public Schools Feed the People In the Summer

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Comments
  1. The law of unintended consequences. As a practical matter, teaching kids is the second priority at schools. Perpetuating the bureaucracy is the first priority.

    When fraud is incentivized, it should come as no surprise that there is fraud ;->

  2. Delores Warner says:

    I have been fighting this fraud for over a year. I finally got my hands on an application form and I see that there is only space for one social security number on the form. I know people who have 3 adult incomes in their households and send 4 children to school on the free lunch program. THAT IS FRAUD. They live in a home worth over $300,000. They can afford to feed their children and not ask the taxpayers to do it.

  3. Delores Warner says:

    There needs to be spaces on the form for more social security numbers for ALL the working members of the household.

  4. VB says:

    Delores is correct, there is only one space on the form for a social security number. There are spaces for family members with incomes (which is taken into consideration when making a determination). And a random audit is taken every school year to see if the appliation submitted is true. This is confirmed by the requested soc sec# of every working household member, accompanied by recent pay stubs. So though some effort is put forth to find the “cheaters”, this audit only includes a percentage of the total participants. With everything that people have to say so bad about this country,the Lunch program is most schools is still based on the “Honor” system. Too bad so many of us have lost our “honor” in our quest for “gettin’ what’s ours.”

    The point about the soc sec# number was on point though, I’ll mention it at the next workshop.

  5. dpr says:

    getting free school lunches for kids whose family has big house, a swimming pool, a big suv, wife with new breast implant is BIG FAT FRAUD, goverment should make a thorough investigations on this crime, PARENTS should be prosecuted and pay for the free lunches their kids ate,They still from goverments budget, money should be use to buy books.

  6. Delores says:

    Finally got the state auditor to do a random check of those on the free lunch program this past year, and with his only checking a RANDOM 3% he found 41% fraud. Do you think it was published in the newspapers,? Oh! no. I wrote letters to the editors and none of them published them. I sent copies of the state auditors letter tome stating the fraud.

    No one wants to do anything about it. Fraud is fraud and I don’t care how big or how small it needs to be stopped. But the states don’t want to do that, because their money comes from the Federal Government based on the amount of students on the free lunch program.

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