Alert Solutions Blog

School Lunch Debt: Can Your Students Afford Lunch?

Posted by Tara Gibson on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 @ 11:04 AM

Did you know 100,000 schools and education institutions across the country provide lunch to 30 million students each day? That’s a lot of cafeteria school lunches! According to the National School Lunch Program, of those 30 million students the program estimates as many as 20 million students receive their lunch for free, 2 million pay a reduced price of 40 cents, and 8 million pay the full price. These incredible statistics are shocking to those who don’t often think about school lunch debt.

Some K-12 school districts are reimbursed this school lunch debt by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which pays schools for lunch expenditures based on the number of students paying full price, reduced price, or are receiving the meal for free. This only occurs if the schools are part of the federal school lunch program.

School Lunch

Students who are not enrolled in a federally subsidized meal plan at their school typically have accounts in which they put money for school breakfasts and lunches. As with any account, once the money is gone the bills will accumulate. This is where school lunch debt begins. The New Food Academy tells us, “…that (school lunch) debt accrual puts an increasing burden on schools that bear it, sometimes to the tune of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single district. In late December, The Washington Post reported that K-12 students in the D.C. area owe a collective $500,000 in unpaid lunch debt for the first semester of the current academic year alone.”

School lunch costs vary by the school district and state, but according to New Food Academy, on average a single meal costs students $2.48 at the elementary school level and $2.74 at the high school level. Although this price doesn’t sound like a lot, it adds up for families providing for multiple children. Lunches can be expensive and lead to school lunch debt.

Frances Frost, a mother in Maryland, spoke openly to the Atlantic and talked about the various permission slips, picture day fliers, and field trip notices she receives on a daily basis. She had unfortunately missed the reminder on refilling her daughter’s school lunch account. She says “…the lunch server graciously let Natalie keep her selected hot lunch with a reminder to bring money for her meal account.” This isn’t always the norm.  There have been discussions on how school lunch shaming is happening in some schools and districts, which is when the cafeteria workers refuse a student lunch as they do not have any money in their account.

This “shaming” sometimes subjects children to the embarrassment of returning their lunch due to insufficient funds.  According to The Atlantic, “Last year in Bedford, Kentucky, parents complained and accused the local elementary school of “bullying” after a child’s lunch was confiscated and thrown away in front of her friends for running a negative balance. Dominic Gant, a high-schooler in Dowagiac, Michigan, was left embarrassed and hungry when his lunch was taken and trashed for owing $4.95. A 12-year-old in Dickinson, Texas had his school breakfast dumped over a 30 cent debt…” The stories continue. Although school lunch debts can seriously add up and create a financial burden for school districts, the shaming and bullying of children who owe money should not occur.

Alert Solutions may have a fix for this problem. Our school notification system, SwiftK12, allows administrators to set up automated alerts to go home to parents, including low lunch balance alerts. The  low lunch balance alert feature can automatically send parents an email, voice call or text message with the student’s name and the remaining dollar amount. Parents can also choose their preferred communication method to make sure they receive and read the notification.

With this feature, school administrators can:

  • Set up different fee alerts based on the balance level
  • Reduce manual staff labor, freeing up time
  • Easily recover unpaid balances, restoring a healthier cash flow for your K-12 school district
  • Notify and engage with parents more effectively
  • Cut down on paper costs

Free up staff from the tedious task of fee reminders and effectively recover unpaid balances with this helpful tool. Ready to learn more?

SwiftK12 Brochure Download

Topics: student health, school notifications, school announcement, educational technology, lunch balance, power announcement, powerschool, school programs, parent communication

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