Schools should gather accurate data on the income, education and English fluency of students’ parents, instead of using eligibility for a free or reduced-price school lunch as a not-very-accurate measure of family poverty.
School lunch data’s validity has been “diluted” even further now that many schools have been allowed to serve a free lunch to all students, regardless of their family income, reports Jill Barshay in U.S. News.
More than half of public school students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch because their parents’ earnings are no more than 85 percent above the federal poverty line. For a single mother with two children, that’s up to $36,612 per year.
Lunch eligibility undercounts poverty, especially at the high school level, because some students won’t eat school food. But it overestimates poverty too. Lunch eligibility is “rising far faster than the actual poverty rate,” writes Barshay.
Between 2000-01 and 2012-13, the percentage of children eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch increased from 38 percent to 50 percent, an increase of 12 percentage points. In contrast, the percentage of public school children who lived in poverty increased from 17 percent to 23 percent, an increase of 6 percentage points.
Billions of dollars in federal aid for disadvantaged students and philanthropic grants are tied to lunch statistics, writes Barshay. Why not get accurate data?