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Solving the Problem of School Lunch Debt

Kids need to eat – but the food isn’t free. So what can be done about parents who don’t pay?

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School meals are a very important part of any student’s education. Feeding students, however, is not cheap, and schools can have a hard time finding the funding. Not all families can afford to pay for hot lunches, unfortunately, and debt begins to grow. Schools are always trying to find ways to make up their losses, but not all attempts are met with enthusiasm.

The Cherry Hill school district in New Jersey currently has a debt of around $16,400 for unpaid school lunches so far this year. Administrators have tried different things to get those debts settled, but so far, nothing has worked. The district enrolls about 11,000 students, and about 20% of those are can get reduced cost or free meals. In August, officials decided to go after the debt problem by only giving tuna sandwiches to students who owed more than $10. They refused to feed any kid with a balance of $20 or more.

Many people were angry about this though, and the school quickly abandoned it. The current plan of attack would prevent students from participating in extracurricular activities such as field trips or going to the prom for unpaid lunch balances. This does not apply to school athletes who owe for meals.

At Cherry Hill, elementary and middle school lunch costs $3. For high school, the price is $3.10. While the district struggles to find acceptable ways to pay off the meal debt, they will not accept donations. Local businessman Steve Ravitz offered to donate the money to pay off all the debt, but the school denied the generosity.

Barbara Wilson, the school district spokesperson, said, “We are not accepting donations toward the debt.” And school Superintendent Joseph Meloche and Board President Eric Goodwin explained their reasoning further in a statement: “Simply erasing the debt does not address the many families with financial means who have just chosen not to pay what is owed.”

Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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