TRENTON — A Republican lawmaker is pointing to today’s report issued by the Office of the State Comptroller detailing widespread fraud in the state’s free school lunch program to support his call for reforming New Jersey’s school funding formula.
“Since the initial reports of fraud in Elizabeth were released two years ago, I have repeatedly called for a larger scale investigation to uncover the extent of school lunch program fraud in New Jersey,” said state Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Hunterdon). “It seemed likely that the abuses found in Elizabeth were occurring all over the place, which the Comptroller’s new report confirms.”
The investigation conducted by Comptroller Matthew Boxer looked into the free school lunch programs in 15 school districts, resulting in the referral of more than 100 individuals to the Division of Criminal Justice for prosecution.
The state’s current school funding formula triggers an ‘At Risk’ designation for students enrolled in the free and reduced price lunch program, resulting in the delivery of an additional $5,000 of state education aid to a school district for each student enrolled.
Noting that link, the Comptroller recommends that “breaking the connection between free lunch eligibility and state aid to school districts could both avoid awarding aid based on inaccurate information and address district incentives to enroll ineligible applicants in the free lunch program.”
“I have said for a long time that fraud in the free school lunch program costs taxpayers much more than just the cost of free lunches, just as the Comptroller noted in his report,” added Doherty. “With a limited pot of state education funding, the extra aid delivered to districts with fraudulent enrollments in the school lunch program results in districts that follow the rules getting less than their fair share of state aid, causing their property taxes to rise.”
Doherty advocates providing every child in the state with an equal share of state education aid, regardless of where they live or the ability of local taxpayers to fund the remaining costs of a quality education..
“The widespread fraud uncovered in the free school lunch program demonstrates how easily a school district can manipulate New Jersey’s current school funding formula to their advantage,” Doherty added. “The Fair School Funding plan that I have proposed would eliminate the potential for abuse.”
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