Lunch Shaming Is A Real Problem But Schools Are Left With Few Options To Recover Delinquent Lunch Money

Earlier this month, a Pennsylvania school threatened parents that their kids could go into foster care if their unpaid lunch balances weren't settled.

a school cafeteria with no kids in the chairs
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Earlier this month, a Pennsylvania school threatened parents that their kids could go into foster care if their unpaid lunch balances weren't settled.

Lunch shaming, as it’s come to be called, is a real problem bedeviling schools and parents across the country. But cash-strapped schools say there’s little wiggle room in finding the balance between providing nutritious lunches to the kids while at the same time getting their parents to pay for them, Yahoo News reports.

With alarming regularity, stories pop up in the news media about schools turning away hungry kids because their parents had not paid their lunch tabs. Oftentimes, that is because they can’t.

Sometimes, well-meaning workers will look the other way at a student’s outstanding balance, or pay the bill themselves. Some have gotten fired for doing so, as reported by The Inquisitr.

Other times, the children will be given an alternative, such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

In other cases, the kids just go hungry.

Unfortunately, schools are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to feeding its children — many of whom are food-insecure — while at the same time being able to pay for the service. In one rather alarming case, reported by The Inquisitr, a school threatened parents with their kids being sent to foster care if the unpaid balances weren’t squared up.

The problem is, school districts have to pay for those meals, and then pass the cost on to the parents. If the schools don’t get paid, they lose the money. In some districts, so many kids have outstanding lunch balances that the districts are millions of dollars in the red.

Melinda Anderson points out that situations like this means that both the kids and the schools lose.

“Overdrawn lunch accounts create real financial challenges for school districts, forced to weigh mounting costs against unsatisfied students and families,” she writes in The Atlantic,.

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So what’s the solution? The answer to that question depends on whom you ask, but most point to the obvious: federal money.

Back in 1946, President Harry S Truman signed the National School Lunch Act, saying at the time that providing kids with nutritious school lunches — especially kids who weren’t getting proper nutrition at home — made for a healthier America in general.

However, in the decades since, costs have risen, meaning that the federal funds coming in don’t equal the food costs going out, so parents are called on to make up the difference.

Writing in Yahoo Lifestyle, Patrick Coleman suggests a once and for all solution to the problem: having federal funds pay the entire cost of providing a free, nutritious lunch (and in some cases, breakfast) to every student, regardless of where they go to school.