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

76 Percent of K-12 School Districts Reported Unpaid Student Lunch Debt in 2016 Survey

Posted by Nina Caliri on Tue, May 30, 2017 @ 10:05 AM

In a survey conducted by the School Nutrition Association in 2016, 76% of k-12 school districts reported meal programs with unpaid student lunch debt. That’s a startling statistic.

Some schools have accumulated so much unpaid student lunch debt it threatens to topple their already tight food service budgets.

It’s a sensitive subject for school administrators, cafeteria works and parents no doubt, but many k-12 schools have been forced to established policies to address the issue.

In order to help prevent unpaid student lunch debt at your school, try implementing these 3 policies:

school-lunch-2.jpg

1. Provide Alternate Meals
Allow students to pick up an alternative meal from the nurse’s office before entering the classroom. Try to serve alternate meals in a brown lunch bag to insinuate it may have been brought from home.

2. Prevent Overt Identification
If you’re offering alternative meals, be sure they are also available for purchase in the cafeteria. When sending home low lunch balance reminders to student families, do so discretely.

3. Send Low Lunch Balance Reminders
Send automated low lunch balance alerts via voice, email or text to ensure discretion. Ensure low lunch balance reminders are available in the parent’s preferred language.

What is your k12 school doing to eliminate unpaid student lunch debt? Share your thoughts on our blog!

Automated Lunch Balance Alerts Learn More Here

Topics: school announcement, lunch balance, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs

What Does Student Lunch Debt Really Mean for K-12 Schools?

Posted by Nina Caliri on Tue, Feb 14, 2017 @ 15:02 PM

The concept of taking a student’s lunch away and throwing it in the trash both angers parents and exposes school officials to ridicule. But behind the outrage of this situation, is a much larger issue.

Survey data from the School Nutrition Association shows that student lunch debt creates real financial challenges for k-12 school districts, forcing them to choose between mounting costs or unsatisfied students and families.

A nationally representative survey of more than 1,100 school nutrition directors working in
public k-12 schools found:schoollunch-resized-600.jpg

  • 71% of K-12 School Districts Reported Having Unpaid Student Lunch Debt
  • Total Student Lunch Debt Ranged from $2-4.7 Million per School District
  • 38% of Schools Have an Increasing Number of Students Who Can Afford Lunch

There are a variety of ways k-12 schools can help minimize this growing problem. Here are two options:

1. Find Alternative Funding
Some K-12 school districts with large numbers of low-income families provide free breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of financial means. These programs are subsidized by the USDA’s Community Eligibility Program.

2. Send Low Lunch Balance Alerts
With low lunch balance alert systems like Alert Solutions, there is less risk that a child’s lunch balance will become negative or remain low for an extended period of time.   This will allow for both school administrators’ and parents’ minds to be at ease, without worrying if a policy is being broken or a child is being denied their lunch.

Is your k-12 school struggling with unpaid lunch balances? Share your experience on our blog!Automated Lunch Balance Alerts Learn More Here

Topics: school announcement, lunch balance, power announcement, powerschool, education

Negative Lunch Balances in K-12 Schools – The Challenge of Unpaid Meals

Posted by Nina Caliri on Tue, Aug 02, 2016 @ 11:08 AM

The intent of a K-12 school lunch program is to provide nutritious meals to children during the school day. Sometimes, students who are not eligible for free meals want a meal, but have a negative lunch balance.

Research indicates that an increasing number of students are coming to school each day unable to pay for their meals.  For example, New York City’s public schools reportedly incurred $42 million in unpaid meal debt between 2004 and 2011.

Here are additional stats from a recent survey:

There are a variety of ways k-12 schools across the country have responded to the challenge of unpaid meals over the years. To help find a low lunch balance strategy that works best for your school, we’ve provided these tips:

1. Find Alternative Fundingschoollunch-resized-600.jpg
- Work with K-12 school district administrators to find funding to cover unpaid meals.
- Have a ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ Account for donations to fund unpaid meals.

2. Make Lunch Balance Payments Convenient
- Have a prepayment system available.
- Allow families to check their lunch balance online at no cost.
- Include online and cash payment options.

3. Send Low Lunch Balance Alerts
- Send automated low lunch balance alerts via voice, email or text
- Provide reminders in the school e-newsletter.
- Ensure low lunch balance reminders are available in the parent’s preferred language.

Did You Know? Alert Solutions can help your k-12 school automate low lunch balance alerts! This feature can automatically send parents an email, voice call or text message with their student’s name and the lunch balance amount.

Alert Solutions' School Notification Systems

Topics: school announcement, lunch balance, power announcement, powerschool, education, parent communication

Unpaid Lunch Balances Create Financial Challenges for K-12 School Districts

Posted by Nina Caliri on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 @ 11:03 AM

The following scenario is played out daily in K-12 school districts across the United States. A student selects a lunch and takes it to the cashier to pay. The cashier notices the student’s lunch balance is zero and is then required to take one of two actions:schoolcafeteria

1. They can charge the lunch to the student’s lunch account – making it a negative lunch balance.
2. They can take the lunch from the student and instruct them to select an alternative meal.

Either scenario can create issues within the K-12 school district. Charging the lunch could mean a greater financial hardship on the school. On the other hand, swapping out what the student wants to eat may generate a phone call from an angry parent.

A Growing Issue
In a recent survey conducted by the School Nutrition Association, 53% of k-12 school districts reported seeing an increase in the number of students who cannot pay for their lunch. Nearly 33% of those k-12 school districts said they also anticipate a ‘significant increase’ in that figure.
 
Did you know the USDA requires k-12 school lunch programs that are part of the National School Lunch Program to zero out their lunch balances at the end of each school year or they could lose funding for the following year?
 
In a k-12 school district with 4,000 or 5,000 students, the annual lunch debt could run $20,000 or $30,000. In a k-12 school district in a major city such as New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, the lunch debt can reach millions of dollars. 

Why Is This Happening
Here are the two most common reasons why a student’s lunch balance may fall into arrears:
 
1. Paperwork
The most common occurs at the start of the school year, when families who may qualify for free or reduced-price meals must file their applications. Parents have up to 30 days to apply, during which time a window of debt opportunity opens.
 
2. Forgetfulness
Then there are parents who simply forget to keep up with their child’s lunch account. In order to help keep parent’s informed, may k-12 school districts send parents an email or text message when their child’s lunch balance has reached a predetermined level.
 
Alert Solutions’ low lunch balance alert feature can automatically send parents an email, voice call or text message with student name and remaining dollar amount.
 
With automated low lunch balance alerts, there is less risk that a student’s lunch balance will become negative or remain low for an extended period of time – easing school administrator’s minds.
 
How does your school handle negative or low lunch balances? Share your thoughts on our blog!

Topics: school announcement, lunch balance, power announcement, powerschool, education, school programs

When Students Can’t Pay for K-12 School Lunch, Everyone Loses

Posted by Nina Caliri on Tue, Dec 09, 2014 @ 13:12 PM

Everyone wants children to have access to healthy meals at school, but financial realities often force school lunch program operators and school administrators to make tough choices. Research indicates that an increasing number of students are coming to school each day unable to pay for their meals.

A 2012 SNA survey of school meal program directors found that 53% of school districts were experiencing an increase in unpaid meal charges. Of those facing the increase, 56% anticipated the accumulated debt from those charges would be greater at the end of the school year compared with that of the previous school year. 33% anticipated the increase in school lunch debt would be substantial.schoollunchline

Some school meal programs acquire thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dollars in debt from unpaid meal charges. For example, New York City’s public schools reportedly incurred $42 million in unpaid meal debt between 2004 and 2011.

School lunch programs are self-sustaining and financially independent of a school district’s education budget. However, federal regulations prohibit school lunch programs from carrying debt from unpaid meal charges from one school year to the next. So when parents don’t pay the lunch balance, and school meal programs are unable to cover the costs, school districts are forced to pick up the tab.

With school budgets shrinking year after year, schools are struggling to overcome the increasing debt school lunch programs are costing. To help combat this growing issue, schools are implementing automated low lunch balance reminder systems like Alert Solutions.

Automated low lunch balance reminder systems send reminders to parents when their lunch balances reach a certain threshold, prompted them to refill the account. << Learn More >>

What is your school doing to help reduce school lunch debt? Share your thoughts with us on our blog!

Topics: school announcement, lunch balance, power announcement, powerschool, education

Low Lunch Balances in One Utah Elementary School Land Some Lunches in the Trash

Posted by Cassie Breen on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 @ 14:02 PM

One of the most prominent issues in K-12 school districts over the past year has involved school lunch balances.  Some school districts across the US were scrutinized for practices that involved denying students their school lunch due to a  negative or low lunch balance.

LunchBalanceNotification resized 600Uintah Elementary School in Utah has been a recent addition to the list of schools who have dealt with low lunch balance concerns.  Last month, nearly 40 students at Uintah Elementary School had their school lunches taken away and thrown into the garbage because of negative or low lunch balances in their school lunch account.

Students whose lunches were thrown away were given milk and fruit as a replacement.  This upset students, their families and some staff members, bringing attention to the issue. 

"It was wrong. It should not have happened, and we apologize that it did," said Salt Lake City School District spokesman Jason Olsen.  According to Olsen, a district employee had come to the school to look into its unpaid school lunch account balances.  This is said to involve between 50-70 school lunch balances.  Olsen also explained that parents were notified if their child’s lunch balance was low before the incident occurred.  Some of the parents, however, explained that they did not receive the call from the school regarding their child’s lunch balance.

 District policy mandates that schools work with parents on unpaid school lunch balances and give them a large amount of notice before the account becomes empty.  Olsen has stated that regardless, the lunches should not have been taken from students.

School administrators need to do what they can to prevent these types of situations.  A school notification system can help alert parents of low lunch balances.  When their child’s lunch balance becomes low on their meal cards, an alert can be scheduled to automatically inform parents through their preferred communication methods including voice, email and SMS text messaging.  School administrators can also view reporting for notifications to ensure parents are receiving these important messages.

With low lunch balance alerts, there is less risk that a child’s lunch balance will become negative or remain low for an extended period of time.   This will allow for both school administrators’ and parents’ minds to be at ease, without worrying if a policy is being broken or a child is being denied their lunch.

To learn more about implementing automated low lunch balance alerts in your school, visit our website or contact us today!

Alert Solutions Features  for PowerSchool Users

Topics: school notifications, lunch balance, power announcement, powerschool, education

New Guidelines Change K-12 School Lunches for the Better

Posted by Cassie Breen on Tue, May 14, 2013 @ 15:05 PM

Do you remember waiting in line for your school lunch?  Options tended to be pizza, a sloppy joe or some other mysterious item.  Today, new school lunch guidelines have shifted away from these types of meals in favor of healthier options to help combat obesity.

Obesity is a growing problem in the United States, especially among those who are below the poverty level.  Families in this group are already at greater risk for obesity, and children are more likely to eat a school supplied lunch.  This has led to higher USDA standards on school lunches.  Studies have shown schools exceeding these guidelines have a better rate of decreasing obesity.

schoolcafeteria resized 600

Schools exceeding these guidelines have done so by:

-          Requiring a specific number of fruits or vegetables

-          Reducing products containing trans fats

-          Offering 1-percent or skim milk

-          Including more whole grains in meals

Most schools have made moderate changes to school lunches in order to meet guidelines.  Recently, however, some schools have tremendously revamped their school lunches. For example, PS244 in New York City has gone to an all-vegetarian menu.

Although these school lunch guidelines are a positive change to improve student health, school administrators still face a common struggle.  Unfortunately, offering healthier meal options is more expensive, and with growing budget constraints, school administrators have to find ways to reduce as many unnecessary expenses as possible.

One lunch-related solution to improve cash flow is for school districts with electronic meal cards to implement automated low lunch balance alerts. This allows schools to automatically send parents an email, voice call or text message when school lunch balances go below a specific dollar amount.  This saves office staff hours and helps reduce instances of negative lunch balances from occurring, positively impacting school budgets.

To learn more about implementing automated low lunch balance alerts at your school, visit our website or contact us today!

Topics: student health, school notifications, lunch balance, power announcement, powerschool, education

School Lunches: Making Sure Student Lunch Balances Stay Positive

Posted by Cassie Breen on Fri, Apr 12, 2013 @ 14:04 PM

One of the most important parts of a school day for students is lunch time.  A school day can feel like an eternity for some students, so lunch is a great opportunity to let students take a break and reenergize.

Although some students may bring their own lunches, many students purchase their lunches at school.  In order to make this process more efficient for faculty, students and their families, most schools have implemented prepaid meal plans.  This allows parents to deposit money onto their child’s meal card which is then used to purchase lunch. 

This ensures the money is used on lunches rather than the student just being handed cash. Even though this is extremely effective and has been a positive addition to many schools, there are still some problems with prepaid meal cards.  Parents and students may not keep track of their lunch balance, therefore risking a low or negative lunch balance. Unfortunately, this may prevent students from getting served lunch at some districts.

LowLunchBalance resized 600School administrators need to do what they can to eliminate these types of situations.  One route is for school notification systems to be put in to place to alert parents of low lunch balances.  When their child’s lunch balance becomes low on their meal cards, an alert can be scheduled to automatically inform the parent.

With low lunch balance alerts, there is less risk that a child’s balance will become negative or remain low for an extended period of time - easing school administrator’s minds. If student lunch balances remain in the black there will be no worry of policies being broken and school lunches being denied.  Parents can send their children to school without worrying whether or not their child has the proper amount of money to purchase a school lunch.

For PowerSchool users, Alert Solutions now offers automated low lunch balance alerts.  Parents can now receive an email, voice call or text message informing them of their child’s low balance.  This functionality improves school cash flow and is more efficient than manually contacting parents.

To learn more about implementing automated low lunch balance alerts in your school, visit our website or contact us today!

Topics: lunch balance, power announcement, powerschool, education

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