After $10,000 in donations, all of Austin ISD’s school lunch debt is paid off (for now)

Every delinquent student lunch account in AISD is now up to date, thanks to your generosity.

Yesterday, I blogged about what happens when a student can’t pay his or her school lunch/breakfast account, and you responded by donating more than $10,000 to help catch up students who’d fallen behind.

That wipes the slate clean, for now.

Some back story:

In some states, students can be asked to clean tables or otherwise work off their outstanding balance, but even though that practice doesn’t happen in Central Texas’ largest school district, students who have a negative balance are offered courtesy meals of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in elementary school and a salad in middle and high school.

School lunches are evolving rapidly in terms of quality and availability, but if a student has a negative balance in his or her account, the school offers a courtesy meal, which is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in elementary school and a salad in middle and high schools. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Even without the shame of having to be called out in front of your peers as poor, there’s still a fair amount of shame in not having the same options as your friends.

More than 250 of you decided to chip in to ease that shame. In less than a day, the AISD EdBacker campaign exceeded its initial goal of $10,000 to pay off the outstanding balances of every student in the district, according to Anneliese Tanner, director of AISD’s food services department who is overseeing some really cool work in the district.

The total is now at $13,181 and counting, a far cry from the $1,300 in the account when we first shared it, but that’s not anywhere close to the $350,000-$500,000 that is the cumulative total of unpaid meals that AISD absorbs into its budget every year.


“We’re very appreciative of the generous support of the community to help us expand healthy food access,” Tanner says. “This amount will successfully clear the current negative lunch account balances. While this funding helps with the current need, negative balances are an ongoing issue, as they accrue daily. Our primary focus is ensuring no student goes without a balanced meal, regardless of their account balance and payment status, and we will continue to provide nutritious meals to students who have exhausted their meal accounts.”

She went on to explain the policy of how they cover the costs when students can’t pay, and where the funding to cover these costs comes from:

As part of our commitment to expanding food access, we do not pull trays from students if they are unable to pay for their meal. So, while we do have a charging policy, if a server does not provide the courtesy meal to the student at the front of the line (i.e. sandwich plus side of veggies and milk), the student receives a menued meal just like his or her peers, courtesy of the district. This policy means that the majority of our courtesy meals are menued meals, not sandwiches with a side of veggies and milk.

The district does not receive federal funding for the 700+ courtesy meals served each day. Additionally, we don’t charge our students for these meals. If we did the total would add up to a little over $350,000, the amount the district covers to serve our students nutritious meals no matter their ability to pay. So, while the negative account balance charged to the students for their meals is around $13,000, the actual cost of serving nutritious meals if all accounts were kept current every day would be around $350,000 per year.

 

In a few months, you can check back in with your local school to see if there’s a debt you can help pay, or you can organize with your neighborhood or co-workers to pay off an entire school’s. It’s not an ideal way to handle the problem of poverty and food access in America, but it’s a short-term solution that without a doubt, will brighten someone’s day.

And remember that Austin is only one district in Central Texas with an ever-growing student lunch debt. Del Valle ISD, which wraps along Austin’s eastern edge and has more than 11,000 students, could use a little of this philanthropic bounty, even if it’s a temporary respite.

It’s cumbersome to write and mail a check, but you can mail one, written out to the district and with “negative lunch balances” in the memo, to 5301 Ross Road, Del Valle, TX, 78617.

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