New Jersey State Senator Michael Doherty (R-23) said that new charges against six public employees announced by the state's Acting Attorney General for fraud related to the free and reduced price school lunch program are yet another reminder that New Jersey’s convoluted school funding formula needs to be reformed to prevent future abuse.
"Just last year, we saw a number of individuals in Elizabeth charged for falsifying applications to get their children free school lunches that they didn't deserve," said Doherty. "With yet another round of charges recently announced, it's time that the Legislature acknowledges that school lunch fraud is widespread and distorts the delivery of state school aid."
Doherty noted that enrollment in the free and reduced price school lunch program triggers an ‘At Risk’ designation for enrolled students under the state's school funding formula, resulting in the award of an additional $4,500 of state education aid to the student's school district.
“The cost to taxpayers of fraud in the school lunch program is much more than just the cost of free meals for students,” said Doherty. “When an ineligible student is signed up for free school lunches, the extra $4,500 their school district receives comes from a finite pot of state education funding, leaving less for deserving children and school districts that follow the rules.”
Doherty further noted that a report issued in 2011 by State Auditor Stephen Eells indicated that a high percentage of students signed up for free and reduced price lunches in New Jersey were actually ineligible for the program.
"School districts benefit with substantially increased state aid for each student receiving subsidized lunches, so they have little incentive to verify a student's eligibility," said Doherty. "It's clear that many school districts turn a blind eye on fraud in exchange for the extra money they'll receive, even knowing it will hurt kids in other districts."
Doherty is the sponsor of the Fair School Funding plan, which would replace the current flawed school funding formula with a fair, simple and transparent formula that would provide every child in the state with an equal share of state education aid, regardless of where they live.
"It's clear that our current school funding formula is flawed and easily manipulated," added Doherty. "My Fair School Funding plan, which gives every child in the state the same amount of aid, eliminates the potential for abuse."