As demand for subsidized school meals went unfulfilled, K-12 districts diverted food service money for other purposes such as a new roof and sprinklers, a new state Senate report finds.
Public schools provide 2.4 million free or reduced-price lunches every day in a system that serves 6 million schoolchildren in California.
The federal government provides the bulk of funding at $2 billion, with an additional $145 million annually from the state, the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes report states.
But the federal government relies on California Department of Education officials to monitor school lunch programs and ensure that the money is being spent appropriately.
The department has required eight districts to repay nearly $170 million in meal money, but the Senate report says the education department is ill-equipped to ensure compliance and that districts may be raiding those funds on a broader scale.
The report recommends several changes, such as reviewing whether CDE has enough oversight staff and requiring annual audits of cafeteria funds.