This morning, Governor Christie signed an Executive Order to convene a task force of experts to ferret out abuse and manipulation of the school funding formula due to fraud in the Free and Reduced Price School Lunch Program.

He says the Education Funding Task Force will help make sure every education dollar counts and ensure funding is not being misdirected, but actually getting to those economically disadvantaged children who need it most.

The Task Force will specifically consider: economically effective measures of student poverty; educationally sound measures of defining at-risk students; appropriate adjustments to School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) to account for municipal property ratable bases that may be artificially deflated as a result of municipal property tax abatements; and identifying all aspects of the SFRA that may be susceptible to fraud, or subject to undue outside manipulation and recommendations to address these abuses.

Christie says, “How we spend education dollars in our schools is just as important as how we provide them. Funding must follow the child more closely and get to the students who need it most. This Task Force will help to root out and eliminate well-documented fraud and abuse in the Free and Reduced Price School Lunch Program, which has led to the possible misdirection of tens of millions of dollars of education funding.”

The SFRA is designed to distribute greater amounts of school aid to districts serving greater numbers of students who are economically at-risk and districts with less property wealth. Currently, participation in the federal Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program serves as the proxy for classifying and counting economically at-risk students. Recent studies and news reports clearly identify high levels of fraudulent enrollment in the program – undercutting the state’s ability to fairly and appropriately determine aid levels for schools. A 2011 report by the State Auditor found that as many as 37 percent of the students in the program are enrolled fraudulently.