THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
Office of P-20 Education Policy
USDA has been asked to address the appropriateness of providing information to contractors auditing school districts' receipt of funds under the FCC's E-Rate fund. The FCC, through the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), administers the E-Rate program. USAC provides discounts to schools to obtain affordable telecommunication and Internet access; the discount rates are based on the percentage of children who are approved for free and reduced price school meals. USAC has contracted with private firms to conduct audits of the discount rates given to schools. Specifically, auditors have asked for a list of students eligible for free or reduced price meals under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) who enrolled in the selected schools along with the applications for those students.
Based on information shared with us by the FCC's Office of the Inspector General, USDA has now determined that release of information to their auditors is permitted under section 9(b)(6) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (NSLA). That section allows release of certain student eligibility information to Federal education programs. USDA has worked with the FCC to ensure that their audit protocols comply with the requirements of the NSLA.
As long as the audit protocols below are followed, local educational agencies (LEAs) may share individual children's information with authorized FCC auditors. The applicable protocols are to:
- compare aggregate enrollment data with aggregate free and reduced price eligibility data;
- for small sample of eligible students, request their applications (which could include direct certification records);
- confirm that an application or other documentation exists for each selected student; and
- prohibit auditors from retaining personal student information.
FCC auditors do not have the authority to conduct verification of applications for free/reduced price school meals. Therefore, FCC auditors cannot contact households or other sources (such as assistance agencies or employers) to confirm the information on the application. However, auditors may:
- Ensure the information on the application was accurately processed; i.e., that the income and the number of persons in the household were totaled correctly and that the appropriate Income Eligibility Guideline was used;
- Confirm that the children listed on rosters as eligible for free or reduced price meals have approved applications on file; and
- Confirm that the number of children used for statistical purposes is based on approved applications.
Any discrepancies in these areas must be brought to the attention of the LEA.
Further, because these auditors are bound by USDA disclosure requirements, they cannot share or otherwise release individual information. FCC has instructed their auditors that the LEA may redact all information from the application that does not directly show that a student has an approved application or other documentation on file. For example, if the student is identified by his/her student number, the LEA could redact the student's name, address, etc. as long as the student number and approved eligibility status were visible.
Do not hesitate to contact Child Nutrition staff at 518-473-8781 if you have questions regarding E-Rate Audits.