Unpaid lunch bills: What’s the problem and what can we do about it?

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Unpaid lunch bills: What’s the problem and what can we do about it?

Deanna Driscoll, Co-Editor

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Every day around the nation, students at U.S. elementary, middle, and high schools are struggling to pay for their lunches. Some get free or reduced lunch, but many do not qualify. Those who don’t qualify but can’t afford their lunch either get a free, cold substitute lunch, or a warm lunch that racks up debt on their account.

According to a survey, schools in the country have an average lunch debt of $2,500 per individual school. In Chambersburg, the district’s total for all its schools is in the $30,000s.

So… what can we do to fix it? There are a lot of options, some which are more preventative and some which serve to solve the problem once it exists.

  1. Closer and clearer communication between parents and schools
    1. To prevent charging of student lunches when there is no money to pay for it, schools should directly communicate with parents about how much lunch costs, if their student is on free/reduced lunch, and to discuss with them what will happen if a student needs a lunch but is unable to pay. This way, the parents can be aware so they can try to pack lunches instead or find a way to afford school lunch.
  2. Push for changes in the federal lunch program
    1. Currently, the federal lunch program reimburses schools for lunch costs, but they are allowed to use the money only for direct cafeteria costs and indirect costs such as paying for employees. However, they aren’t allowed to use the money to pay unpaid lunch debt. To solve the problem of unpaid lunch debt, people should push for changes in the program that would allow schools to use their reimbursement money to cover lunch debt.
  3. Seniors
    1. Whenever seniors leave the high school, many of them have at least a few dollars remaining on their lunch accounts. Schools could begin a procedure of sending out notifications of these amounts to seniors along with a request for them to donate the money they have left on their accounts. At CASHS, the senior class is almost 450, and while not all of them have money left on their accounts and the end of the year, those that do may consider donating it to lunch debt.
  4. Fundraising
    1. Schools do fundraising for many different things. CASD does fundraising for its elementary schools, Mini-Thon fundraising for The Four Diamonds Fund, the CASHS literary magazine does fundraising each year, etc. CASD could follow the same idea and hold fundraising events to pay for student lunch debt. This could be a car wash that collects donations, a fundraising talent show or drama show, or selling sandwiches, candles, etc. to pay for lunch debt.

There are many other solutions, but there are just a few solid ones that any school district could use to solve the issue of lunch debt.