Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sign Here Please

Yesterday was the first day of school for my teens, and, my, the forms we have to fill out. I don't mind most of them. Bus pass, clinic information, emergency forms, class syllabus, rules, dress code. It's all a good idea. What I didn't understand until I really looked into it is why we are REQUIRED to fill out the Free and Reduced Lunch Application. We know we are not eligible and have never been eligible, but if we don't fill it out, they send new ones. They even call to remind us. Why? Why cause more work, a useless review of our application, knowing it will be denied, followed by the inevitible letter that it, in fact, has been denied? It seems such of waste of time and effort.

But now I know.

It's not about free lunch anymore. We would like to think that the program is for those poor children who may not be eating at home, who need one guaranteed meal a day to function. That was certainly the idea in the beginning, but it has gone so much farther. It turns out that the free lunch program is one of the main poverty indicators for school districts. This data is connected to Title I funding that could amount in the millions for poor districts. So they push. Some schools provide incentives just to get those applications in. And if you lie about your income? Verification is haphazard at best. Federal requirements are to verify 3 percent of applications. The schools know this and count on it. They know that many applications will be approved even if they are falsified and so the district's poverty level will rise and they will receive more money for other things.

As always, I wonder if there is a better way.

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