INDIANA (21Alive) – Nearly half of all Indiana school children are on the federal free or reduced-price lunch program. State lawmakers fear that number is inflated due to lax income verification – a concern that has caused lawmakers to shift to a state-based statistic involving free textbooks instead.
More than 351,000 students receive discounted meals in Indiana, and the number of students receiving state textbook aid is around 512,000 students. The numbers are so similar because Hoosier parents simply check a textbook box on the application for free and reduced-price lunch.
Federal rules prohibit schools from asking for any proof of income for the free and reduced-price lunch program. This has led state lawmakers to think that 1/3 of Hoosiers on the program are fraudulent.
Lawmakers wouldn’t care about the program, except that they use the statistics as a key part of the tuition-support formula sending state dollars to schools. It’s used to calculate the complexity index meant to give money to poor districts with disadvantaged students.
As a result of the concerns, the General Assembly will base the complexity index on the state textbook program starting next July. This allows the state to keep a closer eye on the data and require parents to provide tax or pay stub information.
FWCS has seen a steady incrase in the free and reduced-price lunch program since the 1989-90 school year when only 27% of the student population qualified. Ten years ago it was at 54%, and the preliminary number for this school year is projected to be about 72%.
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