Warwick schools working on way to accept donations to lunch debt
Best Practices for Preventing or Reducing School Meal Debt School breakfast and lunch provide students the nutrition they need in order to continue to learn throughout the school day. School meal debt is a challenge for the majority of school districts – a recent school nutrition report found that 3 in 4 school districts had unpaid school meal debt. Strategies include offering school breakfast, school lunch or breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students when it is financially viable; taking steps to ensure that all students who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals are certified to receive them; implementing USDA policies that can help reduce school meal debt; and responding quickly when students begin to accrue debt. To be eligible, a school, group of schools, or a school district must have an ISP of at least 40 percent. In the 2016-2017 school year, nearly 21,000 schools across the nation adopted the community eligibility provision, including nearly 2,200 between 40% and 50% ISP and over 6,000 schools with an ISP between 50% and 60%.
FRAC’s webinars on operating CEP at lower ISPs are available on our recordings resource page. Nonpricing is generally only an option for school breakfast, unless the school district chooses to use non-federal funds to cover the costs of providing free lunches to children who are not certified to receive free or reduced-price school meals. Strategies can include broadly distributing the school meal application and explaining why it is so important; providing application assistance at back-to-school night, afterschool programs, and all other outreach opportunities to connect with parents; incentivize submitting the school meal application by offering prizes to classrooms or schools with the best return rates; and working with trusted community stakeholders, such as churches or social service agencies, to promote applying. Certify Students Using the School Meal Application’s Submission Date: School districts are allowed to certify a student for free or reducedprice school meals as of the date that a complete school meal application is submitted instead of the date that the application is approved. Provide Special Consideration for Students who Attended a Provision 1, 2, 3, or Community Eligibility School: When a student transfers to a new school during the school year, school districts must provide free reimbursable meals to that student for up to 10 operating days or until a new eligibility determination is made if they came from a school that offered free meals through Provision 1, 2, 3, or community eligibility.
Accept New Students’ Certification for Free or Reduced-Price School Meals: School districts are allowed and encouraged to accept the certification made by another district when a student transfers into the district during the school year. Eligibility for free and reduced-price school meal benefits for children from non-provision and non-CEP schools are required to transfer to schools within the same LEA. Certify students who are known to be eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Institute Consistent Communications About School Meal Accounts: School districts can use technology to keep families updated on their school meal account balances and to provide reminders that households can apply for free and reduced-price school meals at any time during the school year.
Kids with School Lunch Debt Still Face Lunch-Shaming, Despite Outrage
If social media is any guide, the idea of singling out kids with unpaid balances-by making them do chores, denying them a meal, serving them a cold cheese sandwich, or stamping their arms or hands-has been met with almost universal disapproval. A recent survey of 50 large districts by the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger advocacy group, showed no significant sea change, even though districts were required for the first time to put their meal debt policies in writing by July 1. Of the 40 districts surveyed that have written policies in place, only 13 have a policy requiring schools to serve school meals to all children regardless of ability to pay. The remaining 27 districts take a variety of approaches to meal debt, with 10 denying meals to high school students as soon as they have an outstanding balance-and some of those to middle school students as well. 17 districts reported placing a cap on the number of regular meals served before a meal is denied, with some imposing the cap only on older children and taking a more lenient stance with those in elementary school. The FRAC survey also found that when districts do provide meals to students who can’t pay, in many cases it’s still a cold, alternate meal such as a peanut butter sandwich.
According to Pratt-Heavner, schools try to prevent families from accruing debt in the first place by, for example, helping them fill out federal paperwork or using online technology that makes it easier for parents to monitor meal accounts. The New Mexico and Oregon laws forbid schools from publicly identifying children with meal debt, including using hand stamps, denying a meal, or offering an alternate meal. The Texas law doesn’t contain this broad language, and instead only requires districts to set a grace period during which children with debt must be given their regular meal; after that period expires, the statute is silent on how children are to be treated. The California law, passed just last month, would still allow a school to deny a meal to a debt-ridden child or serve her an alternate meal so long as it treats all children who show up in the cafeteria without funds the same way. If districts are required to provide unlimited hot meals to children without payment, they could well be saddled with more bad debt.
Of course, lunch shaming wouldn’t be an issue if schools could simply provide meals at no cost.