Calcasieu Parish School Board addresses rising school lunch debt

Calcasieu Parish School Board to contract with debt recovery agency to address school lunch debt

LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - School lunch debt has been a topic of conversation across the nation for years.

A 2019 report by the School Nutrition Association revealed seventy-five percent of districts in the U.S. had unpaid meal debt. So, what happens when a child has an unpaid balance and can’t pay for their meal?

“The school board policy is that we would never deny a student a meal no matter how much they owe," Calcasieu Parish School District Nutrition Program Director Jacqueline Richard said.

According to the School Nutrition Association, the amount of unpaid student meal debt has increased substantially over the years. An issue the Calcasieu Parish School District knows all too well.

“From last year to this year we’re now up to around $150,000 in student debt again," she said.

Just two years ago, the school board used general funds to pay off over $250,000 in student lunch debt, wiping it clean. But now the district is looking to address the issue again.

“To be $150,000 in student debt, it’s not something that you can continue for a long period of time," she said. "You have to have some sort of action to make sure you’re collecting those accounts.”

Richard said the district reaches out to families who qualify for free and reduced lunch in the hopes of lowering the debt. To apply for school meal benefits you can click here.

For students who have an outstanding balance, parents are notified throughout the year by phone and mail. But now, a new step is being implemented.

“So, our policy is very heavy in terms of notifying households and at the end of the school year our plan is to utilize a debt recovery agency to help us to collect those funds," she said.

The district said it decided to use a debt recovery agency, so the nutrition staff can focus on students’ health.

For a list of school breakfast and lunch prices you can visit the CPSB website.

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