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
  • NWS-PT040714 Hogsett mug.jpg The job? Guarding public trust INDIANAPOLIS -- Joe Hogsett was being vetted for the job of U.S. Attorney four years ago when he asked a federal judge for advice. That judge observed that there hadn't been a high-profile public corruption case in the southern district of Indiana s

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Flood Insurance Indiana [Duplicate] Indiana braces for flood insurance subsidy changes INDIANAPOLIS -- Thousands of Indiana homeowners who live in flood-prone neighborhoods are bracing for insurance premium increases, despite Congress' latest fix for the government's debt-saddled flood insurance program. More than 13,300 Indiana homeow

    March 30, 2014 2 Photos

  • NWS-PT031714 Wolkins mug.jpg Zooming through: Rules on mo-peds headed to governor's desk INDIANAPOLIS -- Rep. Dave Wolkins could only oppose mo-ped regulations for so long, as more bikes zipped along the roads and were involved in an increasing number of accidents. So Wolkins -- who spent five years fighting to keep Indiana among the few

    March 17, 2014 2 Photos

  • Prison inmates part of new Legion post TERRE HAUTE -- Wearing khaki-colored matching uniforms, more than 20 veterans inside a maximum-security prison stood tall to salute the flag of the United States at an event that welcomed them as new American Legion members. These men, inmates at the

    March 17, 2014

  • NWS-PT031414 beer alcohol.jpg Old ban on beer booze level may be tapped out INDIANAPOLIS -- Loughmiller's Pub across from the Statehouse is a favorite hangout for legislators and lobbyists who like the tavern's menu of gourmet burgers and craft beers. State police are regular lunch customers, as are state officials who regul

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Indiana House leader: Tax, preschool deals near INDIANAPOLIS -- Republican leaders working on a series of last-minute compromises on top-tier issues of tax cuts, preschool and road funding announced Tuesday they were close to final agreements. "I say agreement in principle because we still have to

    March 12, 2014

  • Same-sex couples sue state over ban LOUISVILLE -- Erin Brock says she's prepared to fight to have her love legally recognized by the state of Indiana. Brock and her fiancé Melissa Love share a home and children in Jeffersonville and are one of four same-sex couples from Southern Indian

    March 10, 2014

  • Ivy Tech's $83M wish list meets skeptical audience INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Ivy Tech Community College says it needs $83 million more from the state so it can double its enrollment and graduation rates and help the state meet its own goal of increasing the number of Indiana residents with post-high-schoo

    March 9, 2014

  • Bill ends automatic license suspensions for many crimes INDIANAPOLIS -- Unpaid parking fines, falling behind on child support, drunken driving: So many offenses trigger a suspended driver's license in Indiana that more than a half-million Hoosiers have lost their driving privileges. In fact, driving on a

    March 7, 2014

  • NWS-PT030314 Zionsville bus.jpg Rolling billboards: Legislation may create pilot program INDIANAPOLIS — Cash hungry schools may start selling ads on the sides of buses to make up millions of dollars lost because of property tax caps. Legislation moving through the General Assembly would create a pilot program allowing a few districts to

    March 3, 2014 1 Photo

Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

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

Should mushroom hunters be allowed to forage off-trail in Indiana state parks?

Yes
No
Undecided
     View Results
Featured Ads
AP Video
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.