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Supply chain challenges, lower participation were fixtures among school meal programs in the fall

A new study by the National Center for Education Statistics analyzes data collected from public schools in October.
A student holds a lunch tray
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Public school nutrition programs continue to contend with procurement issues and lower meal participation, according to a new study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

As of October, 83% of public schools surveyed said they were experiencing supply chain issues, with foodservice procurement being the most prominent.

In addition, nearly half said they’re combating supply chain challenges by offering fewer menu items. Others said they were purchasing product alternatives (47%) or using alternate vendors for the same products (40%).

“These data show that teacher vacancies are not the only challenge facing schools this academic year. The majority of schools have experienced problems acquiring necessities like food, electronics and furniture because of supply-chain issues during this school year so far,” NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr said in a statement. “These data provide insight into the challenges emanating from the COVID-19 pandemic that schools continue to experience.”

The study also revealed that school participation in national meal programs has dropped. As of October, 88% of public schools said they were  participating in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meal programs, compared to 94% of schools in March 2022, during the last school year.

Participation among students has also dropped. Sixty-nine percent of public schools participating in USDA meal programs reported that more than half of their student body utilized the programs, compared to 84% of schools last school year.

Other challenges school nutrition programs reported facing this year include getting families to fill out applications for free or reduced-price meals (34%), staffing shortages (32%) and increased program costs (29%).

The study represented data collected from 990 participating schools between Oct. 11 and Oct. 25, 2022.

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