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Edwardsville School Lunch Debt

School lunches are getting more expensive. The average charge for a school lunch in the U.S. has risen to about $2.50 at the high school level.

Of those students who eat school lunches, a higher percentage qualify for free- or reduced-price lunches. But there are many who don’t quite qualify, and yet have difficulty paying these rising prices. According to the School Nutrition Association, about 75% of U.S. schools had unpaid lunch debt at the end of the 2015-16 school year, costs that are paid by taking money from other places in the school’s budget.(https://schoolnutrition.org/uploadedFiles/2_Meetings_and_Events/Presentation_PDFs/ANC_2016/Paying%20Down%20the%20Unpaid%20Meal%20Debt.pdf)

HOW MUCH DOES THIS COST? Within ECUSD 7, the annual lunch debt has been around $20,000 per year for the last several years. How is this sustainable? Inevitably, the district has to cut back in other ways, on staff, supplies or course selection, which means a narrower and less rigorous curriculum for all.

To keep these costs down, some school districts have adopted a policy of refusing lunch to any student whose account is not paid in full. Other schools have required students to work in the cafeteria or elsewhere, to pay down their lunch debt. But Edwardsville District 7 has rejected this policy of “lunch-shaming” in favor of giving all students the nutrition they need to perform well at school. Every attempt is made to notify parents of the debt, and to sign up those who qualify for free- and reduced-price lunches, but no student is forced to go hungry because of their parent’s inability or unwillingness to pay.

To ease the squeeze this policy causes on our district’s finances, Trish Oberweis has formed a group dedicated to raising money to support this humane, common-sense policy. School Lunch Debt Solutions ECUSD 7 is still in its first year of existence, but already it has raised over $10,000 through a series of fun, family-centered activities that draw attention to the cost of providing a nutritious lunch to all Edwardsville students. “Paying off the entire debt would be awesome and huge,” says Oberweis. “So we’re glad for every penny that we get and everything we can do to help pay it down.” With her fellow activists Heather Porter, Tori Siron, Betsy Ward and Lynette Watson, Oberweis is tying to raise awareness as well as money, opening the eyes of many in our community to “how the other half lives.”

THIS SATURDAY, August 18th, Restore Décor will host a fundraiser for School Lunch Debt Solutions ECUSD 7. Net proceeds from all sales will help cover the debt. Come in and browse many lovely and unique items AND meet volunteers from SLDS who can give you more information and insight into the lunch-debt problem, which is becoming commonplace in school districts across the country.

If you can’t make the fundraiser, you can get more information on this problem—and potential solutions—at https://www.facebook.com/schoollunchdebtsolutions/?ref=br_rs.

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