MCPS should end school lunch debt for good


Photo courtesy of NationSwell

MCPS lunch costs many students and families to collect debt. They have cancelled it this year but that is just putting a band aid on a problem, we need a permanent solution.

The Maryland Department of Education has given MCPS extra funding due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Board has used that money to give students free lunch since their return to school in April 2021. It was announced recently that the Board will also use that money to wipe out student debt acquired from purchasing school lunch. Starting in the 2022-23 school year, MCPS will start the debt count from zero for students. This is good but simply not enough.

Pre-pandemic, one in 10 MCPS students carried some amount of school lunch debt district-wide. Those students will return to school next year and start collecting more lunch debt again.

And this is just local, the ending of the universal free school lunches program nationally looms a hunger crisis for over 10 million children. That is beyond shame, but we should hold MCPS to a higher standard than the national government. We should expect MCPS to act on this.

While Covid cases have dropped, the economy has not recovered. If anything, many economists warn that we could be heading into a recession. Child hunger is a real and rising problem, food insecurity affected 10.5 percent of all U.S. households in 2020. The simplest solution known to man to solve this problem is free school lunch.

And this is not just about feeding a child but school lunches affect students’ school performance. If you have not been eating all day, how can you be expected to concentrate on lessons and assessments all day?

MCPS has such a bad history when it comes to dealing with school lunch. The draft MCPS policy proposed in 2021 said students whose families do not qualify for federal free and reduced-price meal programs (FARMS) but who have a lunch debt of more than $35 would get the “alternative meals” until the debt is paid. Basically publicly and socially shaming students who can not pay for their lunches. While the draft never became a law, the new law just states that they can get the same meal but can not buy extra snacks. This is better but seems like a temporary solution. A better long-term solution would be to cancel all school lunch debt forever and simply make lunches free.

“School lunch debt” is a phrase that should not exist and there is nothing more evil than letting a child starve. In the 13th richest county in the nation, no student should ever go hungry.