For decades, participation in the federal government's free and reduced lunch program was used as the measure for determining the extent of poverty and its impact on Louisiana schools and school systems. Expanded access to the program in recent years has made it a less reliable indicator of the economic reality that students and their families face.
Because poverty has an impact on education performance, the standard is also tied to school evaluation and teacher assessments.
On Tuesday, the House Education Committee approved with amendments HB130 by Rep. Phillip DeVillier of Eunice that would use "economically disadvantaged" as the new standard by which the state and local school systems would measure the impact of poverty. The bill would require that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education define what constitutes being economically disadvantaged in Louisiana.
The Independent contacted Rep. DeVillier for comment on his bill. His office sent his talking points he used before the committee to explain his bill but he had not yet replied at press time.
The change is driven by changes at the national level in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program. Under changes that went into effect in 2013, the USDA has allowed high poverty schools and school systems to allow all students to participate in the free and reduced lunch program.
DeVillier told the committee that 27 public school districts and 44 charter schools are using the Community Eligibility Provision in the program to expand the free meal program. DeVillier says 22 other public school districts have at least one school participating in the CEP.
The problem that DeVillier's bill seeks to remedy is that the state has used participation in the program as the standard to measure poverty in schools and districts. Wider participation under the CEP decouples participation in the program from the economic condition of students.
In place of participation in the school lunch program, DeVillier's wants BESE to come up with a new standard for measuring who is economically disadvantaged here. His bill states that BESE "shall ensure that all indicators used to determine and identify economically disadvantaged students as provided in Section 1 of this act are are substantially the same as those used to certify student eligibility for the federal free and reduced meals program."
DeVillier's bill now awaits action by the full House at some point next week.