Pharos-Tribune

Breaking News

State News

May 23, 2013

State won’t use free lunch program as poverty indicator

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana is changing the way it counts low-income students in public schools because Republican legislators suspect fraud in the federal school-lunch program used to measure poverty.

Tucked inside the budget bill passed by the General Assembly last month is a provision that ends the use of the program to determine levels of poverty-based funding for school districts after next year.

Instead, the state’s textbook assistance program, which provides free schoolbooks to low-income children, will be used to calculate how much additional money the state gives schools to help educate children most at-risk for failure.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley said he and other GOP legislative leaders have “lost confidence” in the accuracy of the federal school lunch program as an indicator of poverty.

“There’s no accountability in the federal program,” Kenley said.

The change is significant: Of the $6.6 billion in state funds that go to K-12 schools in Indiana, about $1 billion of it is directly tied to the federal school lunch program: The more students that a school enrolls in the program, the more state money the school district gets.

But little accountability is in place: By law, the state can’t audit the federal program to see if families are falsely reporting their incomes so their children can get the free or reduced-cost meals.

And the state can’t require schools to verify the information either. Parents aren’t required to provide any proof of their income when they apply for the program.

But the state can require schools to verify the family incomes of children who get free textbooks through the state’s textbook assistance program. The eligible income level is about the same for both: Up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level (about $29,000 for a family of four.)

“We can’t audit the federal program, but we can audit the state program,” said Republican Rep. Jeff Thompson of Danville, a retired schoolteacher who pushed for the change.

Dennis Costerisan, head of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, said the change will likely mean parents will have to prove their income status.

“I think the legislators who supported this just want to make sure that there aren’t people out there trying to game the system,” Costerisan said.

Driving the change is the rapid rise in the number of children enrolled in the federal school lunch program in Indiana and other states, and concerns that the program is ripe for abuse because of so little oversight.

In 2005, about 29 percent of children in Indiana’s K-12 public schools were getting free lunches through the program. By 2011, it was up to 40 percent.

If you include students eligible for the reduced-cost lunches (at a cost of 40 cents), almost 49 percent of children in the state’s public schools are now enrolled in a program that was created to provide basic nutrition to needy students.

Legislators have questioned those numbers, in part because they don’t seem to jibe with other numbers, such as Census Bureau figures that show about 17 percent of children in Indiana are living in poverty.

Also, they’ve seen reports of fraud in other states. A 2011 report by the New Jersey State Auditor found that up to 37 percent of the students in the program may be were enrolled fraudulently. Earlier this year, a report by the Chicago Public Schools’ Inspector General reported widespread abuse of the program, including by some well-paid school administrators who signed up their own children up for free lunches.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane of Anderson opposed the change.

“We don’t know if there’s fraud in Indiana,” Lanane said. “I would have rather studied the issue first to see what kind of impact this will have on schools, families, and children,” he said.

Since schools currently use the same income information to enroll students in both the federal school lunch program and the state’s free textbook program, Lanane is concerned that some parents won’t sign up for either program, even if they’re eligible because they can’t, or won’t, provide evidence of their income.

“This has the potential to hurt schools with high numbers of students who are living in poverty and need all the help they can get,” Lanane said.

But Kenley and Thompson argue the issue is critical to the state’s ability to fairly and appropriately determine funding levels for schools.  

Thompson said the state will be better able to detect fraud in the free textbook program, because it will have more authority to require parents to provide evidence of their income levels.

The details of how that will be done is yet to be determined. A provision that would have required the Indiana Department of Education and state Department of Revenue to annually verify the incomes of 25 percent of families whose children get free textbooks was pulled out of the budget bill at the last moment.

But it’s expected to return in the 2014 legislative session.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
State News
  • Deputy: No vehicle involved in fatal Cicero bike crash CICERO (AP) — Investigators say a 20-year-old bicyclist who was killed in a crash in a central Indiana town wasn't struck by a vehicle. Nicholas Camp of Cicero was pronounced dead at an Indianapolis hospital after he was injured in the crash in Cicer

    July 25, 2014

  • Holiday World plans new winged roller coaster SANTA CLAUS (AP) — The Holiday World amusement park in southern Indiana says it's building a new roller coaster that will launch riders to 60 miles an hour in 3.5 seconds, with a 14-story loop among four inversions. Plans for the Thunderbird were ann

    July 25, 2014

  • Man dies after being hit by sheriff's prisoner van INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Police say a man has died after he was hit by a sheriff's department prisoner transport van on an Indianapolis street. City police spokesman Officer Christopher Wilburn says witnesses told investigators that the man was lying on t

    July 25, 2014

  • Murder, rape charges filed in SW Indiana attack BLOOMFIELD (AP) — Prosecutors have charged a 35-year-old man with fatally shooting a man outside his rural southwestern Indiana home and then raping a woman inside the home. Greene County prosecutors filed murder, rape and other charges Thursday agai

    July 25, 2014

  • Teen Pilot-Crash [Duplicate] [Duplicate] Family: Indiana teen pilot who crashed in ocean knew risks PLAINFIELD (AP) — Haris Suleman knew that flying around the world carried risks. But like adventurers before him, the 17-year-old pilot from Indiana also believed dreams aren't achieved without taking chances. "Why does any explorer undertake the nec

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Indy. Man who avoided prison time for rape resentenced INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indianapolis man who was placed on home detention after being convicted of drugging and raping his then-wife is going to prison for violating his probation. The ex-wife of 52-year-old David Wise said she felt "sucker punched" b

    July 24, 2014

  • Judge rules Indiana hog farms protected by law WINCHESTER (AP) — A judge has ruled state law protects the operator of large hog farms from lawsuits filed by residents of an eastern Indiana county. The lawsuits against North Carolina-based Maxwell Farms accused it of allowing hog waste to accumula

    July 24, 2014

  • Ex-Indy officer appeals convictions in fatal crash INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A former Indianapolis police officer is appealing his convictions for killing one motorcyclist and seriously injuring two others while driving drunk in his police cruiser. A brief filed by public defenders Wednesday claims the jud

    July 24, 2014

  • Ex-Indiana officer pleads guilty in $150K theft FRANKFORT (AP) — A former central Indiana police officer has pleaded guilty to charges that he stole nearly $150,000 from a company for which he transported cash. Former Frankfort police Lt. Randy Emery avoided jail time as a judge sentenced him to t

    July 24, 2014

  • Court rules prison agency mistreated former Pendleton counselor INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal appeals court has ruled that Indiana's prison agency mistreated a female employee when it shrugged off her complaints about workers having sex on her desk and later fired her for having an affair with an official. The ap

    July 23, 2014

Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

The Pence administration continues to cut Indiana agency budgets despite a state surplus of $2 billion. Is this wise management of state funds?

Yes
No
Not sure
     View Results
Featured Ads
AP Video
Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Cumberbatch Brings 'Penguins' to Comic-Con Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites Anti-violence Advocate Killed, but Not Silenced. Dempsey: Putin May Light Fire and Lose Control Arizona Prison Chief: Execution Wasn't Botched Calif. Police Investigate Peacock Shooting Death Raw: Protesters, Soldiers Clash in West Bank Police: Doctor Who Shot Gunman 'Saved Lives' 'Modern Family' Star on Gay Athletes Coming Out MN Twins Debut Beer Vending Machine DA: Pa. Doctor Fired Back at Hospital Gunman
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.