In the past, students with negative lunch account balances were fed “alternative lunches” that consisted of milk and a cold sandwich. There have even been reports of students’ lunches being thrown away if they were unable to pay. Rather than shaming students whose accounts are in the red, many schools now provide them the same meals as everyone else. Yet these on-credit meals come at a cost.
Ballooning school lunch debt climbed from a median of $2,000 to $2,500 per school district between 2016 and 2018, according to the School Nutrition Association. A report in The Washington Post showed K-12 students in the District of Columbia area owed $500,000 in lunch debt, while debt in Denver stood at $356,000 in 2017-2018 — a 2,600% increase over the $13,000 in debt that students owed in 2016.