Academics, researchers and state education officials have long used enrollment in a government program that pays for students’ meals to help gauge poverty in a particular school or district.
(It’s a metric we use at StateImpact, too.)
But Indiana lawmakers have dropped the use of the “free and reduced price lunch” number in favor of a different metric for measuring poverty in schools. From CNHI statehouse reporter Maureen Hayden:
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 a school enrolls in the program, the more state money the school district gets.
Kenley suspects the federal school lunch program is susceptible to “fraud and error,” as David Bass puts it in EducationNext.
That possibility aside, free and reduced price lunch (FRPL) numbers only work so well in measuring poverty anyway. From The New America Foundation’s Federal Education Budget Project:
While FRPL data is generally a reliable poverty indicator in the elementary grades, it is less so in the high school grades. Because free and reduced price lunch is an opt-in program at the majority of schools, researchers believe that high school students are greatly under-represented in school lunch program enrollment. High school students may refuse to enroll in FRPL due to a perceived stigma attached to the program.