Chris Christie Wants To Crack Down On School Lunch Fraud [AUDIO]
He is looking for a new way to count students who qualify for additional school aid because they are considered at-risk. Christie says the current method of calculating at-risk students based on whether they get free or reduced-price school lunches is a method fraught with fraud.
The Education Funding Task Force is designed to ensure 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 program came under scrutiny last summer when it was reported that the Elizabeth School Board's president was arrested on charges of third degree theft by deception and third degree tampering with public records as it related to the program.
"Establishing criteria that clearly define who is an 'at-risk' student is an important part of ensuring that state educational aid is fairly distributed," says Assemblyman Erik Peterson. "The ramifications of intentionally submitting false information have consequences for all students throughout New Jersey. I am confident of a thorough and objective review that will result in a process that ensures taxpayer dollars are distributed equitably."
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.
"Providing a great education that prepares every single child in our state for college or a career has been a top priority of my Administration," says Christie. "For this reason, I've proposed a budget that increases state support for education to its highest level ever and an agenda of bold reforms to turn around failing schools."
The panel will be composed of 7 members from inside and outside of government, each with expertise in education funding, policy, administration, governance and fiscal management. All members of the Task Force will serve without compensation. The Governor wants a full report in 120 days.