School Fee Waivers and Verification Process
Under Illinois law, school districts are required to waive charges for textbooks and other fees for children whose families are unable to afford them, including children eligible for the federal free lunch and breakfast program, and for any other extenuating circumstances for which the school board will waive fees as communicated in its adopted policy (e.g., reduced-price lunch or medical emergencies). [105 ILCS 5/10-20.13 and 34-21.6]
Currently, a school district is obligated to waive at least the cost of textbooks and instructional materials for any student whose family income is within the federally established guidelines for free meals, regardless of the student’s participation in the federal meals program (i.e., National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Special Milk or After-School Snacks). In addition, the district cannot verify the eligibility to receive a school fee waiver of a student who is receiving free meals outside of the verification requirements established for the federal meals program.
Effective September 1, 2009, however, school districts that establish a process for requesting school fee waivers that is separate and apart from the application process for the federal meals program will be able to verify eligibility for a fee waiver independently (see Public Act 96-0360 at http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=096-0360&print=true&write.
The law amends Sections 10-20.13 and 34-21.6 to provide two application options for verification purposes:
- Option 1: Use of a student’s application for free meals under the federal program as the basis for granting a school fee waiver; or
- Option 2: Establishment of a separate application process to determine a student’s eligibility for school fee waivers based upon the income guidelines established by the federal meals program that does not rely on a student’s application for, eligibility for or participation in the free meals program.
Under Option 1, a school board that participates in a federally funded, school-based child nutrition program and uses a student’s application for that program as the basis for waiving fees must follow the federal requirements for verifying a student’s eligibility for both the meals program and waiver of school fees. This means that if a child is eligible for free meals, his or her school fees are automatically waived based on the meals application; however, federal requirements restrict the school district to verifying only 3% of the approved meal applications on file as of October 1, unless it has established just cause. No further verification of the student’s eligibility for the fee waiver can be made. A child who is “directly certified” (i.e., is receiving SNAP/Food Stamps or TANF) or is “categorically eligible” (i.e., is homeless, migrant or runaway or in Head Start) would automatically receive school fee waivers as well under this option and would likewise have his or her receipt of free meals and a school fee waiver subject to the federal verification limitations.
It should be noted that a school board that chooses to use the federal meals application as the basis for granting school fee waivers also must have a school fee waiver application available for families who wish to apply only for the fee waiver and not the free meals program. Verification of school fee waiver eligibility for any student not applying for the federal meals program may be conducted in accordance with Option 2 below.
Under Option 2, a school board must establish an application process for determining and verifying eligibility for school fee waivers that is completely independent from the process for determining and verifying eligibility for free meals. While a student would still qualify to have his or her school fees waived based on the federal income guidelines, the granting of school fee waivers could not be made based on the student’s application for free and reduced price meals. The new state law relieves a district using a separate process from the verification thresholds set by the federal program. Instead, a school district may verify a student’s eligibility for a school fee waiver no more often than every 60 calendar days. If information obtained during the school fee waiver verification process determines that the student’s family income is not within the federal income guidelines for free meals, then the fee waiver can be denied. However, the school district cannot use the information received under this process to deny a student’s participation in the free meals program. A discrepancy between the school fee waiver application and the free meal application is not sufficient evidence (“just cause”) to allow a school district to verify the meal application. In other words, a district cannot verify the meal application based on information obtained through verification of a fee waiver. It is important to note, however, that a child who is “directly certified” (i.e.,. is receiving SNAP/Food Stamps or TANF) or is “categorically eligible” (i.e., is homeless, migrant or runaway or in Head Start) would automatically receive school fee waivers as well under this option and would likewise have his or her receipt of free meals and a school fee waiver subject to the federal verification limitations.
Although state law does not require school districts to waive fees for students receiving reduced-price meals, school districts that choose to do so are subject to the verification restrictions outlined under each application option above.
Questions about regarding the processing or verification of federal meal program applications?
Visit http://www.isbe.net/nutrition/sbn_handbook/toc.htm or contact Nutrition Programs Division at 800/545-7892 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions about fee waivers?
Contact the Rules and Waivers Division at 217/782-5270.