Dayton: 'You Don't Humiliate Students' With School Lunch Debt
KOLD INVESTIGATES: School lunch debt causing problems for southern Arizona’s biggest district
TUCSON, AZ – No one wants a child to go hungry, especially the food services teams working in school districts across the country. Now, that budget-friendly childhood classic could fall short of guidelines from the National School Lunch Program. That’s what staff at Amphitheater Public Schools do when a student’s owes more than $20. If a student still has an outstanding balance by the end of their senior year, participation in graduation could be limited. The policy for Tucson Unified School District is to provide everyone with a meal, unless a parent or guardian notifies the school not to feed the student.
If an account hasn’t been settled by the end of the school year, the district pays for it. TUSD, southern Arizona’s largest school district by a long shot, also had the largest lunch debt. More than 4,000 accounts were unpaid by the end of the 2017-18 school year. TUSD used auxiliary funds, the district’s rainy day money, to pay off last school year’s debt. School administrators receive cash or check donations for lunch debt, usually from community members with a particular connection to a school, according to Aguilar.
School lunch debt donations are tax deductible but they do not qualify for the AZ State Tax Credit program. What will likely be half a million dollars in two school years, Stegeman said the district needs to be accountable. A school lunch shaming bill didn’t make it through the Arizona State Legislature.
New Catch Up on Lunch program repays past due lunch debt for public school students
No child should ever have to worry about where their next meal comes from, but the reality is that many do. According to Feeding America, one in six children may not know where they get their next meal; children facing hunger are more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school, experience developmental impairments, and have more social and behavioral problems. Thankfully for Lowcountry kids, the Blessing Box Project has joined forces with I Heart Hungry Kids, Queen Street Hospitality Group, and Charleston Restaurant Foundation to launch Catch Up on Lunch, a program that will help raise money to repay past due lunch debt for children in Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester county public schools. Feeding all of these children has put a heavy load on public school budgets, forcing them to shift their funds away from staff development, art programs, learning materials, and other beneficial initiatives. During the 2018-19 school year, local county debts have continued to grow – Dorchester District 2 students have incurred more than $136,000 in lunch debt, Berkeley County has over $300,000 in debt, and Charleston County carries roughly $88,000 in debt.
Catch Up on Lunch will host spirit nights at local restaurants with a portion of all evening profits donated to the cause; donations for the program are also available online. School administrators who would like to apply for Catch Up on Lunch funds should apply by April 1.
School lunch debt: Rhode Island Warwick Public School District feeding jelly sandwiches to students in lunch money debt, after denying restaurant owner’s donation to pay off outstanding dues
A school district in Rhode Island announced this week that students who cannot pay for lunch will receive sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches until they can pay off their debt. One parent said she was outraged after receiving an email from Warwick Public School District about the new lunch system. Angelica Penta, whose son goes to a school in the district, said she offered $4,000 to pay off students’ lunch debt, and that her donation was turned down. Penta, who owns two restaurants in Warwick and West Warwick, Rhode Island, eventually raised $8,000 in donations from customers. She gave $4,000 to West Warwick schools in January, but the district denied her donation.
The school district told her some parents might be too prideful to accept the donation, so they refused it. Penta shared a screenshot of the email on Facebook and said she was outraged she was led to believe kids would still get hot meals from the school. Penta said she offered the school several solutions, but they were all shut down. In the meantime, she encouraged those in school lunch debt to reach out to her directly, so she can help pay off debts on an individual basis. She now has over $13,000 in donations waiting to be used.
The restaurant owner wants to start a nonprofit organization to help other towns and cities pay off lunch debts in the future. CBS News reached out to Warwick Public Schools for comment and is awaiting a response.
Jeff Lew Is on a Mission to Wipe Out Student Lunch Debt
This week, we honor Jeff Lew – a Seattle father who is on a mission to wipe out student lunch debt -as our Architect of Change of the Week. Jeff launched a GoFundMe campaign to help pay off the lunch debt at his son’s elementary school. Now, he has raised enough money to pay off debt at three of Seattle’s largest public school districts, and his impact continues to grow as people across the world chip in and donate. We caught up with Jeff to learn what inspired him to take action and what we can all learn about the power that one person can have in making a difference. Just imagining my own child being shamed for not having enough money to pay for his lunch, or not getting a full meal because he can’t afford it, it made me feel this sadness and this ache inside me.
I realized that for some kids, this is their reality: they have lunch debt that they get shamed for or they aren’t given the full meal because of debt. Let’s see if we can find a permanent solution to the student lunch debt. The community has really gotten together and helped out quite a bit. Since the media caught it, other people have as well. More people are hearing about it and that’s raised more awareness.
What I can do is help out others who might want to do a campaign for their own school district. It’s important for me to lead by example and show my kids that out of millions of people, one person can stand out and make a difference.