When mom and dad don’t pay up kids get stuck with a cheese sandwich. That’s the fate in Albuquerque school lunch rooms for kids without the coins to pay for a lunch.
There is no free hot lunch in the Albuquerque Public Schools for parents unwilling to pay the tab. If the tab is unpaid, students are given a cheese sandwich, piece of fruit and milk carton to sate them until parents pay up. The schools are having to put this policy in effect to keep budgets on line and still allow children a meal, just not a hot one. Chula Vista, Calif., Hillsborough County, Fla., and Lynnwood, Wash. are also changing to the cheese sandwich policy.
Some critics are saying that the cold meal is a punishment to children whose parents simply can’t afford to pay. Not paying is just what has happened in Albuquerque, to the tune of $140,000 through the first five months of this school year. If the debt keeps on the same pattern by the end of the school year the department will be dealing with about $300,000 in food debt. That debt has risen sharply from the $55,000 that was unpaid for school lunches in 2006.
In New Mexico alone there are almost 204,000 low-income students. Those students are entitled to a free or reduced-price lunch from federal funding. When a family hasn’t qualified though there are no funds to bail out the schools unlike federal bailouts for the banks.
“We can’t use any federal lunch program money to pay what they call bad debt. It has to come out of the general budget and of course that takes it from some other department,” Mary Swift, director of Albuquerque’s food and nutrition services said.
Since the new policy begin a little over $50,000 of the debt has been collected. There are also 2,000 students who are receiving free or reduced lunches. Getting more children in the lunch program means more federal dollars to put into the district.
As for the critics giving Albuquerque Public Schools a hard time, Swift says the kids are still getting a lunch. That is more than other school districts do when kids come empty handed to class..
Albuquerque Public Schools “has historically gone above and beyond as far as treating children with dignity and respect and trying to do what’s best with for the child and I think this is just another example,” Swift said.