Federal Mandate Forces School Lunch Fee Increase


School lunch prices are going up a little bit for Eastern Pulaski students. Superintendent Dan Foster says their federal funding for the lunch program is in jeopardy without the increase. A provision in the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act requires corporations to increase “paid lunch” prices over time. That’s the amount students who don’t qualify for free and reduced lunches pay for meals. The idea is to ensure that higher federal reimbursements for free and reduced-price meals are not subsidizing those for students in the paid category. Doing so also frees up money to help meet new nutrition quality standards.

“Nobody wants to do it, and we don’t have a choice,” Foster told the school board Monday night. Our rate was I think at $2.53 the last time we figured. Right now our lunches are at $1.80.”

Eastern Pulaski officials checked with the State Board of Accounts and were told they don’t have to raise lunch prices all at once to close that gap. Foster adds too many students depend on free and reduced lunch subsidies to put those programs at risk.

“With 46 percent at the elementary and 39 percent at the middle school/high school, we’re not in a position to be able to say ‘nah, we don’t really need those funds.’ We do need them, so it’s darned if you do and darned if you don’t. Nobody wants to do it, so our recommendation is to take the 10 cents again and not try to get it all at once. That would take the price up to $1.90 this year.”

The federal requirement does not extend to breakfast, so that price will not change.

The school board unanimously approved the fee increase.