03/28/19: As lunch debt soars, Board considers consequences

By Gary Weckselblatt

Since Pennsylvania's "anti lunch shaming" law went into effect in 2017, the lunch debt in Quakertown Community School District has exploded from $5,000 that year to nearly $24,000 through March 31, nearly a five-fold annual increase.

"That's a huge jump," School Board member Jennifer Weed said at the March 28, 2019, meeting. "This indicates to the Board that some families are just not paying for their meals. This is not, we don't believe, all need based."

Students on free and reduced lunch are not part of the growing debt burden, she said. Ultimately, as the debt increases, taxpayers will pay for it in the form of increased lunch prices.

State law requires schools to provide a meal to any student who requests one, regardless if they have money. It also bars schools from publicly identifying or stigmatizing students who don't have money for lunch. However, it appears that some families are simply taking advantage of the system.

To remedy the situation, the Board's Policy Committee, which Ms. Weed Chairs, is in the process of developing several options for an updated student debt policy. It would include actions to address any type of student debt, not just the lunch program.

Consequences could include missing major school functions, like prom, or other school events. Having a collection agency seek payment may also be considered.

"The school district ends up being responsible for this debt because the parents and their students are not paying for their food," said Ms. Weed.

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or gweckselblatt@qcsd.org.

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