Just weeks before school was to begin, the school board introduced a plan to combat a major problem. The district-wide lunch service had over $60,000 dollars in negative lunch balances. This amount of negative balances across the lunch service seemed very extreme to me so I did some research and spoke with Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Shelly Severson, to understand this new plan and to find additional solutions to this big problem.

At first glance, the solution to this problem is easy, do not let kids who have negative balances eat.  This solution is not the stance that is taken by the school district because of legal and moral obligations.

“Families that qualify for free meals, get to eat regardless of negative balances, per federal guidelines. Providing meals to reduced and normal price students who have negligent balances is a district decision and not a federal decision. Our district took the stance that we were going to continue to bill families for their negligent balances if they receive a regular price or reduced, and we are going to continue to feed students,`’ said Severson. 

The school’s plan to continue to feed students with negative balances is the plan that they rolled out.  Students with negative balances will receive a “Lunchtime Snack” which will not be billed to the student instead of a full meal so that the students do not go hungry but also do not continue to build negative balances.

The school district’s stance on this issue is a valid stance. We should continue to feed students regardless of negative balances. This allows students who cannot afford meals to have a nutritious meal and concentrate on schoolwork rather than their hunger. 

There is really only one additional solution to this problem: everyone should apply for free and reduced meals. Not only will this help our families and students, but it will help other community groups.

Families who submit the application and are accepted into the program will be able to pay off negative balances more quickly and easily because there are no additional funds being charged to the account.  This will help reduce financial stress in our families which in turn reduces stress for the students.

Another of the many ways that everyone applying for free and reduced meals helps us all is that the school receives additional funding based on our percentage of students who receive free or reduced lunches.  

“This is the first year that we’ve qualified for high poverty aid. We didn’t do anything different other than our percentage of students that qualify for free and reduced-price meals has increased,” said Severson. This additional funding allows the school to add funding to additional programs or to create new programs to help our students.

The last way that everyone applying for free and reduced meals will help our school is that community groups will be able to receive grants and other funding.  When grants are decided for community groups that help our students such as UW Extension or others, the percentage of students at the school district who receive free and reduced meals is oftentimes a deciding factor for the grant.  If everyone would apply for this program, our demographics would be better reflected and community groups could better apply for and receive grants and other funding. 

Everyone should apply for this program.  This simple process can help not only the family but also the school and community.  To apply, talk with your school administrators or contact the district office.