It’s happening right now in some Kentucky schools and elsewhere around the country, too. In a few cases, kids throughout an entire school district are getting free or reduced cost lunches even though they wouldn’t qualify under the standard rules.
I found out about this because new data the Prichard Committee Blog says they got from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count report just didn’t look right.
So far, I have learned that Kentucky became a pilot state in the 2011-12 school term for what is billed as a paperwork reduction program to streamline school lunch operations. In districts with high poverty rates, entire schools, indeed the entire district, can qualify for what is called the “Community Eligibility Option” (CEO). Under CEO, every student gets a free or reduced cost lunch at school.
There are several implications in this program.
Clearly, kids who otherwise would not qualify are getting school lunches at taxpayer expense. That might include, for example, the town banker’s kids and the offspring of teachers in the school (most of whom probably would not qualify using the standard rules). Fortunately, there probably won’t be a lot of kids in this situation in each state, but it does add more questionable expenses at a time when funding overall is tight.
There is a huge implication for education research, as well. The CEO lunch program obviously overstates lunch eligibility compared to other schools, other districts, and other states that don’t use it. That will inflate statistics on poverty in Kentucky and elsewhere for the 2011-12 year.
Apparently, this won’t mess up Kentucky’s SEEK funding awards, however. The Kentucky Department of Education sent out a letter last year indicating that the old lunch data still must be collected for SEEK purposes (So much for paperwork reduction).
I am still working to find a suitable data source for lunch eligibility figures for 2011-12 for all schools and districts in Kentucky that will provide comparable data within and beyond the state’s boundaries. Researchers are going to need that if they are to avoid a potentially rather large data comparability problem.
Fortunately, it looks like the program didn’t start until the last school term, so earlier datasets should be OK.