Kudos to David Bass of the John Locke Foundation. In a recent article in Carolina Journal, Bass unearthed a distrurbing truth: many families around North Carolina lie about their income when applying for free and reduced lunch programs. His findings are alarming. He writes:
CJ [Carolina Journal] reviewed verification summaries from four school districts, Buncombe County Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, New Hanover County Schools and Wake County Schools.
Thirty two percent of applicants in the four districts had their benefits reduced or revoked after giving income evidence that differed from the amount reported on the applications, and 37 percent did not respond to the income verification request. That means nearly seven in ten applicants could not or would not verify their income to school officials.
While the fraud is bad, what’s worse is the refusal of many school administrators to pursue those accused of fraud. Why? Follow the money. The percentage of free and reduced-lunch students in schools serves as proxy measure for poverty. It is used to determine a school’s eligibility for Title I funds and to determine if a group of students is making “Adequate Yearly Progress” under No Child Left Behind. As much as schools will deny it, there is a strong financial incentive for schools to keep high enrollment in school lunch programs. Regrettably there are plenty of stories about teachers and administrators encouraging students to sign up for programs, even when both know a family is not likely to qualify.
Bass does an excellent job of highlighting where reform is needed and why free and reduced lunch is a wholly unreliable indicator for poverty. It should be required reading for school administrators and school board members.