Several community groups and even social media influencers are donating to help schools cover students’ debt and supporting initiatives that could lead to policy change.
In another, Sarah Stusek recorded herself calling Mount Vernon Community School in a viral TikTok
video to pay off the Virginia school’s nearly $1,700 lunch debt.
“It’s wonderful (Sarah) is doing that, and that so many community organizations have stepped up to help address this,” the School Nutrition Association’s Pratt-Heavner said. “But it’s unfortunately a short-term solution and one of the reasons Congress should provide school lunches.”
In recent years, new
state legislation has emerged to ban lunch-shaming – preventing schools from feeding kids who can’t pay or have with debt smaller alternative meals, thereby broadcasting that they haven’t paid up.
Which states offer free meals to kids?
Some states opted to continue to offer free lunch for all programs, including Massachusetts, Nevada, Vermont and Pennsylvania.
California, Maine and now Colorado are the only states with laws ensuring permanent universal meal programs for all children, regardless of parents’ income.
A few districts, including Chicago and
New York City, also offer free meals to kids .
More: California to provide free breakfast, lunch for students in first statewide meals program
More: Parents go into debt to pay for kids’ breakfasts, lunches
More: With the end of universal free lunch in most Wisconsin school districts, what options remain?
What other meal problems are schools experiencing?
Kids are accruing debt in part because schools are having a hard time getting kids to sign up for
the federal free and reduced-price school lunch program. Some kids don’t qualify but still can’t afford meals.
A survey by the National Center for Education Statistics
shows student participation in school meal programs is down from last school year by 23% nationally, with the largest drop in the Midwest at 31%.
The October survey shows that of the 88% of schools that operate USDA school lunch and breakfast meal programs, one in four reported “it was much more or a little more difficult for their school to operate meal programs” during this school year compared with last.
Schools told the School Nutrition Association that increasing costs, staff shortages, menu item shortages, menu items being discontinued and unpaid meal debt are some of their top challenges.
Free school meals for all: These are key to Biden’s plan to cut hunger, improve Americans’ diets
Contributing: Alia Wong, USA TODAY
Contact Kayla Jimenez at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @kaylajjimenez.