ELC Response to State Report on NJ School Lunch Program
National School Lunch Program (NSLP) eligibility is not a perfect measure of student poverty, but it is widely believed to be the most accurate measure available and is used in the majority of states around the country. NSLP is designed to ensure that low-income children receive proper nutrition during the school day, but it also has been adopted as the most reliable poverty indicator for the calculation of state aid.
The focus on finding evidence of fraud in the program ignores the arguably more important fact that there are many low-income families that would qualify for the program who do not apply. Efforts must be made to ensure an accurate count of eligible students, but outreach to those who qualify and are not receiving this important service must be paramount.
ELC urges the NJ Department of Education to immediately take steps to improve the accuracy of data collection for the NSLP. A 2007 U.S. Education Department report provides recommendations for how to reduce classification error. We also implore the Department to consider that measurement error exists at the two extremes – there is certain to be both over-classification and under-classification. Any policy changes should take both sources of bias into account.
ELC will strongly oppose any effort to uncouple the NSLP from NJ’s current school funding formula. We condemn examples of fraud in the program, but the leap from these examples to criticism of the use of this important measure of poverty in our school funding formula is ideologically based, unsupported by the evidence and wholly unwarranted.