San Francisco, CA – A California State Senate report has uncovered the misappropriation of millions originally intended for subsidized cafeteria meals. The California Department of Education has ordered several school districts to repay about $170 million misspent, resulting from an investigation by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes triggered by whistleblowers.
State officials found and ordered remittance of $158 million misused in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Repayments ranging from $369,000 to $5.6 million have been ordered for the remaining districts guilty of misappropriation, though some are challenging the accusations.
These figures may only represent a small percentage of inappropriate spending, as the state does not have the resources to properly monitor over 3,000 school districts with cafeteria funds. The money was supposed to be used for programs offering free or reduced breakfasts and lunches to students from low-income households.
It was disclosed that the majority of disadvantaged school districts used the funds to pay for other expenses, covering salary gaps and equipment costs. However, inappropriately diverting cafeteria funds have brought about cost-cutting repercussions. The result: serving students more processed foods in lieu of fresh produce.
On average, the California school districts provide 2.4 million free and reduced-price meals every day. The US Department of Agriculture provides more than $2 billion a year in meal subsidies to California. The state itself allocates an additional $145 million specifically for meal plans.
Chief Deputy Superintendent Richard Zeiger reports the Department of Education has plans to hire monitors to review district meal plan programs.
“Our goal is to be sure every dollar set aside to feed California’s children is spent for that purpose, and that purpose alone. From my point of view, they are literally taking food out of the mouths of kids.”
[Image via Shutterstock]