TATTOO SHOP PAYS FOR LUNCH: Eliminating School Lunch Debt
School lunch debt skyrockets after donations
By SAM ELEUTERIO. A new report from the Warwick School Department has revealed that school lunch debt skyrocketed following an outpouring of donations to the district after national media attention shined a spotlight on the issue. In late April, it was announced that the Warwick School Department had amassed over $78,000 in school lunch debt. An ensuing national media focus – sparked by a school policy that would have limited students’ lunch choices, whose families had failed to make arrangements regarding their debt despite attempts from the district to do so, to a sunbutter and jelly sandwich – resulted in thousands of dollars in donated money from across the country, with the idea it would go to pay off debt accrued by students. The report shows that in a 10-day period following the comprehensive media attention, over 600 student accounts that owed nothing before the publicity – and which are not a part of the free and reduced lunch program – accumulated over $7,200 in new debt.
Over 400 accounts that had existing debt balances and were also not on free and reduced lunch accrued nearly $10,000 more in debt in that same span. In total, 766 accounts racked up over $8,900 in new debt in the immediate days following the public outpouring of support, including 149 accounts who qualified for free and reduced lunch. Of accounts that had existing debt at the time of the media attention, 488 increased their total amount of debt – with only 85 of those being listed as free and reduced lunch accounts. For context, from April 30 to May 9, the district collected $15,150 in debt – encompassing 636 accounts, of which 166 were on free or reduced lunch. Of the some $19,000 in new debt created from May 10 to June 21, over $17,000 of that was accumulated by students not on free or reduced lunch.
The school system has received, to this point, over $87,000 in private donations to pay for the debt. Approval from the school committee was needed to actually use the available donated funds and so the first item on the agenda after public comment was a vote to use the donated money to cover the debt only for free and reduced lunch students – which amounted to $14,786. From the beginning of the school lunch debt issue, the numbers revealed a vast majority of the debt was incurred by families not currently receiving free or reduced lunch.
Meal debt grows in York County schools following lunch shaming regulations
FILE – In this Thursday, May 4, 2017 file photo, a third-grader punches in her student identification to pay for a meal at Gonzales Community School in Santa Fe, N.M. All students are offered the same lunch at Gonzales and other Santa Fe public schools to avoid any chance of embarrassing students whose parents may have fallen behind on meal payments. Under revisions to the public school code passed in 2017 and 2018, schools can no longer refuse meals to students if they can’t pay, publicly identify or stigmatize them or force them to do chores or other work in lieu of payment. South Eastern’s increased more than 18% in the 2017-18 school year before jumping nearly 70% last year to more than $5,000. West York’s director of student nutrition, did not have a specific estimate for the district, he said the amount was relatively small compared to other York County districts.
Elsewhere in the state, Wyoming Valley West School District, in Luzerne County, made national news when it threatened parents – four of whom owed at least $450 each – with sending their children to foster care after overdue bills reached $22,000. School board apologizes for lunch debt warning letter. Per the school code, districts cannot withhold food or offer alternative meals to students, and they must reach out to parents twice once students owe money for five meals or more. A letter sent Friday by the state Department of Education to school officials throughout the state added that, effective Aug. 27, students could be given alternative meals for owing more than $50 in a year, but it clarified that the policy does not apply to schools that use the national school lunch or breakfast programs. One of the key ways to prevent debt from piling up is to ensure families in need have access to free and reduced lunch options, school officials said.
Summer lunch program tries to reach more kids in York County. South Eastern wipes out debt incurred by students before they were on free and reduced meal plans at the end of each year, sends automated phone calls to students and has online alert options parents can set up, Childress said. Since the debt is absorbed by districts, the more debt incurred, the more it affects general fund budgets, school officials said.
How America’s School Lunch Debt Crisis is Harming Kids
Kids are headed back to school and millions will face an unfair, classist burden upon their return: the issue of school lunch debt. According to the School Nutrition Association, 75 percent of school districts reported unpaid student meal debt at the end of the 2016-2017 year – and the impact on these students and their families is far-reaching. In July, 40 families in Pennsylvania received a letter from the director of their school district’s federal programs that threatened parents who can’t afford to send their kids to school with a meal. A Rhode Island school district gave cold meals to students with lunch debt until Chobani stepped in with a donation. In Minnesota, a number of schools attempted to bar teens from graduation ceremonies because they had lunch debt.
A number of heartwarming stories have gone viral – many about young kids who either donated their allowance or raised money to help their classmates pay for food. In July NBC reported that under the Trump administration’s proposed overhaul of the food stamp system, over 500,000 children would no longer be automatically eligible for free lunch. As things currently stand, school lunch debt is taking a toll on the millions of kids who are affected. Dr. Powell suggests creating a fund that allows community members to donate anonymously to help clear school debt.
Donations can also be made to organizations like School Lunch Fairy, an organization that allows you to either donate to a fund that helps any district in need or specify the district you’d like to donate to. As always, reach out to your elected officials to ask what they’re doing to help kids in need. As Lee stated, this is a crisis that simply doesn’t need to exist in America.