The Student News Site of Neshaminy High School

The Playwickian

The Student News Site of Neshaminy High School

The Playwickian

The Student News Site of Neshaminy High School

The Playwickian

The cost of going hungry

Why school lunch debt is the next big problem facing schools
The Neshaminy cafeteria empty after a day of feeding students
Andrew Kim
The Neshaminy cafeteria empty after a day of feeding students

Many have heard over the past year about the Biden administration’s plan to cancel student loans to alleviate some of the financial burdens student debt is causing families.

However, another similar issue is less talked about: student lunch debt. Passed in 2017 by the PA Legislature and signed into law by then-governor Tom Wolf (D), Act 55, Section 1337, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, “requires that schools provide students with a school meal regardless of whether they have funds on hand or in their meal account.”

What many don’t realize, however, is that a hidden negative balance is created for that student which must be paid back, prompting many students to be unknowingly digging themselves into debt.

This has prompted some to see this as an obscene debt that should not continue to be a burden on students and their families. Senator John Fetterman (D-PA), has recently introduced a bill, S. 2876, dubbed the “School Lunch Debt Cancellation Act,” which would cancel this debt across the nation.

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According to Fetterman and the Department of Education, nationally, there is a whopping $262 million dollars generated in debt per year and $80 million of that sum is from Pennsylvania alone.

Neshaminy is not immune to this growing school lunch debt. Neshaminy High School, as of Nov. 1, 2023, is holding $31,019.68 in debt towards the families of Neshaminy students. And to make matters worse, students from all schools are indebted to the District $84,437.83.

The Neshaminy community and School Board must now consider a legitimate question: does the Neshaminy community support requiring students and parents having to pay the district back the money owed for school lunch or relieve them of such obligations?

Governor Josh Shapiro (D), State Sen. Frank Farry (R), and State Rep. Joe Hogan (R) made a joint visit to Maple Point Middle School in Sept. to celebrate the newly enacted law giving all students access to free breakfasts. Shapiro described the reach of the program for the Neshaminy community and the overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle in the Pennsylvania legislature as bipartisan and impactful for families.

With support from both sides of the aisle, this bipartisan budget delivers on that promise and levels the playing field by providing more than 1.7 million Pennsylvania students, including more than 1,200 students at Maple Point Middle School and more than 76,000 students across Bucks County, with free breakfast to start their day”.

Currently, students from all schools and financial situations are eligible to receive free breakfasts in the morning before school starts.

In addition, Farry said he feels “very strongly” against students and parents having to worry about when they will be able to eat.

“Nobody, as wealthy as this country is, should have to worry about coming to school hungry without being fed, or alternatively going to “ bed at night hungry, whether that’s the student or the parent, [food insecurity] is just something that should not exist in this country.”

Farry also expressed his view that the respectful organizations look not into just canceling debt, but examining why the debt accumulated in the first place and if there is any way to prevent it from happening again.

“How did we get into this? Did we do something wrong? Are people taking advantage of the system or not? Or are there people that clearly can’t afford to pay and maybe our theresolds are too high enough to allow more people in the program? You kind of have to do an analysis of it to figure out what the right answer is.”

The resumption of paying for school lunches following the expiration of a national free lunch program during the Covid-19 pandemic is especially difficult right now for families dealing with national inflation of many products and goods.

“The reintroduction of [lunch] prices for some students may have increased hardship at a time when many households were still struggling with the economic consequences of the pandemic and its aftermath, such as rising inflation,” the USDA stated.

School meals may also be a sole source of nutrition for these students and are critical to support brain development and focus in school.

According to No Kid Hungry, “school meals are critical to students’ well-being and readiness to learn”, with meals accounting for nearly half of students’ energy intake, and are often “healthier than meals brought from home.”

If you feel that this debt should be canceled, it is encouraged that you contact the Neshaminy School District Board of Directors, whose contact information can be found on the Neshaminy website. No matter what the District does (or doesn’t) do, the community will have to wait to see whether or not the National government will clean this debt off of students’ plates.

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About the Contributor
Andrew Kim, Photography Editor