Reaching poor families with information important to their needs and getting them to respond to information is probably one of the hardest things to do.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is in the midst of trying to get the parents of low-income students in the district to complete and submit a one page form listing the number of people in their household and the family’s annual income.
The District is trying to comply with new state rules demanding financial verification for every one of its low-income pupils. At stake is $200 million in state lunch subsidies to the LAUSD for students from impoverished families. The new rule was dropped on school districts across the state just before the start of the current school year. According to LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, the state never sought input from the Districts that are now charged with the difficult and expensive task of complying with the new regulation.
For many of the District’s poorest families, the meal they receive at school is their main nourishment, an important component of being ready to learn and succeeding academically, a benefit to us all.
The reality, however, is that poor families don’t always have a reliable way of keeping track of their records. Language and cultural barriers and the fact that many low-income people move frequently, can make the job of complying that much more difficult.
These families are not usually users of social media or have access to the web based notification systems that many of us take for granted.
The LAUSD must overcome these obstacles to be successful in this effort. The District has to date received only 22 percent of the forms they need to prove the financial status of its large number of students who live at or below the poverty level.
The forms were distributed in November to 138,000 students who attend 380 schools in low-income areas. We wonder how many of those forms even got to students’ homes, since students often lose or forget letters from their schools. The District says it is employing a multi-faceted approach to its outreach that goes beyond the usual note home to Mon or Dad and includes phone calls and knocking on doors.
It is important that the LAUSD comply in a timely manner, though we feel that that those who insist on making poor families jump through hoops could much more easily get the information for certain communities from U.S. Census data.
Should the district not be able to comply with this requirement it will be poor students who are victimized for very little reason, since we don’t see students in better financial circumstances going to these schools just to get a free meal.
We urge friends, family and neighbors of people with school-aged children who may fall into this category to ask them if they have filled out and returned the form, and to explain what failure to do so could mean to their child.