School Lunch Money

By Glenn Cook

Like many districts, West Virginia’s Kanawha County School district keeps track of students and staff who don’t pick up the tab at lunch. And the tab keeps adding up, reaching $4 million over the past decade.

Collection agencies are trying to get the money back—more than $3.7 million at last count—but district
officials are pessimistic. Unpaid debts are excused after 10 years, and in a district where more than half of schoolage children already qualify for free and reduced-price meals, the threat of harming someone’s credit score if they don’t pay up doesn’t carry much weight.

Kanawha County’s debt numbers, while large, are not unique. According to an August 2013 survey by the
School Nutrition Association, almost 80 percent of child nutrition leaders said unpaid meal debts are increasing.
And throughout this past school year, reports popped up regularly of schools refusing to serve lunch to kids and of good Samaritans paying off debts.

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