Cutting School Lunch Choices For Kids Who Can’t Pay

The Lee County Public School District in Florida has a problem.

When classes resumed on January 3 after the winter break, as many as 1,100 students weren’t paying for their school meals.

The district, which is the ninth-largest in Florida, and the 40th-largest in the United States, was losing about $2,000 a week on its school lunches. (There are over 14,000 public school districts in the U.S. in total.)

From MSNBC.com:

Because the National School Lunch Program, or NSLP, requires participating schools to provide nourishing meals for all pupils, what do school administrators do if a pupil shows up in the lunchroom with no cash and with no money left in his or her electronic meal account?

Most raise their prices for kids who can pay, according to research by the nonprofit School Nutrition Association, which found that nearly 60 percent of public school districts raised lunch prices in 2009, the last full year for which national figures were available.

The Agriculture Department — which administers the NSLP — says roughly two-thirds of the 5 billion meals served under the program each year are free or are sold at a reduced price. That means you can’t keep raising meal prices indefinitely, because the burden is disproportionally borne by the pupils who buy the one-third of meals sold at full price.

So What Did They Decide To Do?

They came up with the same solution that’s being used in various schools across the nation: students who can’t pay get one free lunch per week. After that, they get an “alternate lunch,” which in Lee County is a cheese sandwich and a 4-ounce juice box.

What’s Going On Here?

The subsidized lunch program is available for families who have fallen below the government poverty line. With the recent economic downturn, many families are now eligible, but they either don’t know, or don’t like the stigma attached to the free lunch program.

And that really hurts districts like Lee County, since if a school can get more eligible children to enroll in the subsidized lunch program, the federal government will pick up more of the bill.

“Alternate Lunches” Being Served Around The Country

In Lee County, they’ve been working to inform needy families, and things are looking up, but MSNBC.com reports that “alternate lunches” of a sandwich along with juice or milk were being served this month in public school districts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington State.

All of this is extremely ironic, considering that the Agriculture Department is currently considering a proposal for announced last month that would require school meals to reduce sodium by half, serve more vegetables and whole grains, limit saturated fats and switch to low-fat milk and dairy products.

Let’s hope this mess can get sorted out.

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241 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven6 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Mary Vaughn
Mary Vaughn5 years ago

The landfills are filled with food that the government does away with just to keep prices high. The very least they could do is to use this food to give children in schools a decent lunch. They also pay farmers not to grow to keep prices high. As to Robby C. the only way the government is going to reduce the debt is by keeping that 2.6 trillion dollars in T-Bonds owed to SS . I go by the unemployment office all the time and there are lines of people looking for a job in a poultry plant. You act as though everyone who doesn't have a job is because they are lazy. I know people who are out of work and will do anything to earn money. The jobs were shipped out of this country. Try putting the blame where it really belongs on all politicians who voted for Free Trade.

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Elena Arutiunova
Elena Arutiunova6 years ago

A sandwich, some juice and fruit from home will be a good solution.

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Jay Evas
Jay Evas6 years ago

they can't afford lunches but cops, government workers and politicians all get raises the last 3 years..........stupid.

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Jane R.
Jane R6 years ago

I always took lunches from home when I was in school. I doubt the children would go without lunch if the schools did not provide free or reduced price lunches. This would only force the lazy parents to get off their butts and take the time to make a sandwich for their kids. They would do it if it wasn't forr the handouts.

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cristiana t.
cristiana t6 years ago

what about sandwiches from home?

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Ethan Brady
Ethan B6 years ago

What happened to lunch from home? It's cheaper and far healthier.

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kenneth m.
kenneth m6 years ago

Poor liberals. All worried about a lunch
If you don't want starving kids , quit breeding
Only have kids when u can afford them then you don't have your hand out all the time begging for responsible to pay your way

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Robby C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Petra- actually, this article makes it sound as if that's not true- about the meals already being subsidized. It may not have all the information, but here it is saying that they have been raising some meal prices (for those who pay) to pay for those who could not (or would not?). That's what's starting all of this & causing a good part of this debate.

"The Agriculture Department — which administers the NSLP — says roughly two-thirds of the 5 billion meals served under the program each year are free or are sold at a reduced price. That means you can't keep raising meal prices indefinitely, because the burden is disproportionally borne by the pupils who buy the one-third of meals sold at full price."

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Petra Luna
Petra Luna6 years ago

The school lunches are already subsidized. Even the "full price" is inexpensive to students. But there are those who cannot afford much, and fall between the cracks. For those children, they still need to eat.

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