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  • Report

    This report reviews the varying practices included in 50 school districts’ unpaid meals policies, and highlights the need for a national approach to end school meals debt.

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  • Advocacy Tool

    The upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization offers Congress the opportunity to address school meals debt, which is a common problem for school districts across the country. School meals debt can occur when students who are not certified to receive free school meals arrive in the cafeteria without cash in hand or in their school meals account to pay for their meals or for the “reduced-price” copayment.

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  • Best Practice

    Many school districts and a number of state policies include providing a reimbursable school lunch to students regardless of their ability to pay. These districts can take important steps to reduce or eliminate the school meal debt that this approach can incur. Strategies include offering school breakfast, school lunch or breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students when it is financially viable; taking steps to ensure that all students who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals are certified to receive them; implementing USDA policies that can help reduce school meal debt; and responding quickly when students begin to accrue debt.

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  • Best Practice

    School meals programs provide children with the opportunity to receive the nutrition they need throughout the school day. Many households participate in school meals programs to ensure that their children are fed when they are away from home. There are various instances, however, when a household that is not certified for free or reduced-price school meals may not be able to pay for school meals. Reasons for the lack of money on the school lunch account can vary from a change in household income status, a misunderstanding of school meal procedures, or simply forgetting to refill the account. When this occurs, school districts should ensure that communication about the debt is held with the households and not the students. There are several effective strategies for outreach and engagement with households that have school meal debt.

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  • Fact Sheet

    This brief describes one of the key simplifications of community eligibility: participating schools no longer collect school meal applications. Eliminating applications reduces the administrative burden on school districts and reduces paperwork for parents struggling to put food on the table.

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