Triad families and school districts struggle with school lunch debt

Parents in the Piedmont Triad are paying thousands of dollars for their kid's school lunches, and many more of them are struggling to come up with the money.

Last school year, several school systems in our area were in debt facing the same problem from elementary to high school. Totals were up to $50,000.

"It`s a struggle. It`s a big struggle," said Alamance Burlington Schools Child Nutrition Director Pamela Bailey.

Bailey works directly with the federally-funded program that operates within the school system. She says, because it is a federally-funded program, all of the school lunch debt in the district must be paid. She stresses the importance for parents to fill out their child's lunch form.

"Each year that qualification, gross income, changes so there may be again those that qualify for reduced missed it by a tenth of a penny to be free," said Bailey.

FOX8's Danielle Jackson requested the total amount of lunch debt for some local school districts from the 2018-2019 school year. These are the numbers they provided:

  • Guilford County Schools - $44,112
  • Alamance-Burlington Schools- $56,146.63
  • Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools- $25,330.30
  • Randolph County Schools-$3,591.88

Most of the district say the main reason behind the debt is because some parents can't afford their child's lunch.

The Community Eligibility Provision, also known as CEP, helps lower the unpaid debt.

"Nine new schools, so we have a total now of 66 schools that are CEP schools where all the students in the school qualify or eat free lunch," said Guilford County Schools Chief Financial Officer Angie Henry.

Guilford County Schools' 2012 policy help curbed their lunch debt over the years.

"In 2012, our board passed a charge meal policy which allows elementary and middle school students to charge up to five breakfast and five lunches, and then once they reach that cap then they`re served an alternative meal which is food off of the serving line. It`s just not a full reimbursable meal," said Henry.

If it wasn't for that, they would see debt totaling around a half-million dollars.

And while those numbers are high, most of the districts in the Triad have received help in paying off school lunch debt through businesses, organizations and anonymous donors.

"There`s no real solution for it right now, and I think it`s going to take our government and congress to put that into place, to end it by making the whole nation free lunch," said Bailey.

Recently, Guilford County Schools received a $10,500 gift to pay off school lunch debt at all school in High Point.

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