Debt collectors are newest school lunch tool

Districts turn to collectors to help close budget gap.

May 14—A lot of school-aged kids are getting free lunches, not because they are backed by the government's free and reduced-lunch program, but because parents haven't been paying off lunch bills, forcing a number of districts to foot the cost.

Already weighed down by budget cuts across education systems, districts can't afford to take on yet another addition to climbing costs. As a result, several across the country have resorted to hiring debt collectors, employing constables and switching out regular meals for lesser versions in a push to get parents to pay up.

As of last February, New York City schools had absorbed some $42 million in unpaid lunch fees since 2004, according to The New York Times. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina recently appropriated $40,000 to cover unpaid lunch fees, the Daily Tar Heel reports.

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Amherst-Pelham Regional School District in Amherst, Mass., is updating its lunch debt policy to no longer single out students, MassLive reports.

Under the new policy, students with lunch debt will be given the same meals as their peers, regardless of how much they owe. School officials will also be communicating directly with parents of students who have accumulated debt instead of through the students themselves.

The updated policy comes just before U.S. school districts will be required to publicly list their lunch debt policies, per new USDA requirements starting July 1...

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