North Carolina schools report nearly $3 million in school lunch debt
While there have been many negatives associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the few positives has been the expansion of free school meals for all children across the country. But as of the start of the 2022-23 school year, the free lunches were over.
Students have been able to eat free breakfast and lunch at school for two and a half years during the pandemic, regardless of their household income. At the start of this school year, federally subsidized free school meals for all came to an end. However, those who qualify for discounted meals can still eat free for this school year, thanks to legislation passed by the North Carolina General Assembly last summer.
The State Board of Education and the State Department of Public Instruction (DPI), among others, are seeking recurring funding in this year’s budget to eliminate user fees for students who are only eligible for discounted meals.
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When a child does not have money for a meal, they may charge it to their accounts – which may not contain any money, thus accumulating debts – or, depending on district or school policies at charter, they may even be denied a meal.
The DPI is compiling data on the school meals debt it receives via survey, and that debt is growing rapidly – it is now over $3 million.
Lynn Harvey, senior director of the Office of School Nutrition at DPI, spoke on the issue at a recent North Carolina Child Hunger Leaders Conference.
“One of the most telling statistics I bring to you today to show you the impact of this economic distress is the most recent result of the School Meals Debt Survey, Unpaid School Meals Debt “, she told the conference. “You may recall that in November we recorded this level of unpaid school meals debt at $1.3 million. Well, by the end of December, that number had jumped to just over $3.1 million.
It is a relatively new phenomenon for the DPI to keep this data, which makes it difficult to determine the size of the school meals debt. DPI has not historically kept information on school meals debt, although starting this year it will submit information on the matter quarterly to the General Assembly.
The story continues
The following spreadsheet displays the results of the most recent survey, which shows the debt accumulated since the beginning of this school year until December. DPI will send another survey in a few days to discover the debt accumulated until the beginning of March.
In the spreadsheet below, you can see the school lunch debt for each of the 79 districts that responded to the survey. By clicking on a tab at the bottom, you can also see school lunch debt by charter school for the charter schools that participated in the survey.
We’ve also created a second column that shows the school meals debt per capita and sorts it from highest to lowest. Per capita data was calculated by taking a district’s or charter school’s total lunch debt and dividing it by the most recent enrollment data.
Here is the spreadsheet.
We’ve broken down the data into a few different graphs to show the Local Education Agencies (LEAs) with the highest and lowest meal debt or meal debt per capita.
The LEAs (districts and charters) reporting the highest school lunch debt are below.
And here are the five LEAs (districts and charters) that had no lunch debt.
For lunch debt per capita, we split LEAs into two groups for comparison – district and charter.
The districts with the highest per capita lunch debt are below.
And here are the neighborhoods with the lowest.
Here are the charters with the highest lunch debt per capita.
And here are the ones with the lowest.
“Let’s not forget that we continue to be that eighth, ninth, and tenth state for child food insecurity,” Harvey said at the conference last month, adding later that she was most concerned about “households whose children are not entitled to free or reduced-price meals, but their incomes are simply too low to afford the cost of school meals.
This article first appeared on EducationNC and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.