How Much Money Do Districts Get?
By Elizabeth Troutman and Lisa Du
Data from federal agencies can help you identify two kinds of errors in your district’s lunch program.
- Enrollment issues: Poverty comparisons will help you determine if qualified children might not be enrolling in the program, or if too many children are enrolling in the program.
- Over-counting issues: Funding data will help you determine if your district might be receiving too much money for the number of children in a school.
Enrollment Errors and Poverty Comparisons
The link below allows you to compare your district’s poverty rates (median household income and percentage of children living in poverty) to the amount of federal funding for school lunch in that district.
(go to Filter -> Select Filter option -> Filter out your state using its abbreviation -> Find your district)
The average national NSLP spending per child is $210 per year. However, school cafeterias should receive about $489.60 per year for each child enrolled for free lunch. Therefore, a district with high poverty will usually have a higher-than-average spending per child.
Likewise, if your district is relatively wealthy but receives large sums per child, you may be concerned about fraud. In this case, schools might classify children as qualified for free or reduced-price meals when they do not meet the requirements. It is important to note that we were unable to uncover such fraud ourselves.
For 46 of the 50 states (excluding Alaska and Hawaii due to different regulations, and excluding Ohio and Utah due to missing data), we have provided you with a quick fact sheet about your state and your district.
Look carefully at the Maximum Predicted Spending compared to the Actual Spending–these columns are most helpful for understanding whether your district has a problem. We calculated the maximum amount each school district could be reimbursed for school lunch, assuming that every child categorized as ‘paying’ bought lunch every day and every child eligible for free and reduced price lunch ate every day. Those districts where the maximum prediction exceeds the USDA spending should raise concern. Schools may be reporting more meals than they actually serve.
We cannot guess about under-counting of meals based on this information, because we do not know how many students eat lunch each day. We simply know whether the amount paid is greater than the maximum potential amount a school should be reimbursed.
Below are Excel files (.xlsx) of national lunch data for each state. You will see columns for:
- the number of children in each school, the number of children who receive free lunch,
- the number of children who receive reduced-price lunches,
- the number of children who can buy lunch at the full price,
- the maximum possible NSLP spending (“predicted USDA spending”),
- and what the district reports it actually spent in the 2007-08 school year
We did not include districts that the U.S. Census and the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core datasets could not match.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
As you look at your state or your district, please keep in mind that while this data is from the federal government, it was produced by thousands of individual school cafeterias. Inaccuracies in the data itself are quite frequent, so you will need to investigate your district by other means as well. For both sets of data, we compared spending on federal nutrition programs from the U.S. Census to poverty data and free- and reduced-price lunch enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core.