NEWPORT - Within the next three years, school lunch programs across the country, including those in the Northeast Kingdom, may have to start charging more for their lunches. The increase is part of the national legislation known as the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010.
Schools charging on average $2.46 or more per student per meal for a paid lunch would not be required to adjust the lunch cost for the 2011-2012 school year, but those charging less, will.
“Over time, federal subsidies have increased and some schools have not increased what they’re charging their students,” explained Glenn Hankinson, business manager for the North Country Schools Supervisory Union.
Congress placed the pricing section in the bill because some school lunch programs had been charging students less than what the schools got for reimbursements, which the federal government felt was inequitable. The United States Department of Agriculture wants school lunch programs to have equity.
“What they’re trying to do is move the price charged to students to a higher level,” said Hankinson. The change would reflect what the schools actually receive for reimbursements.
The federal government does not have a cap of what schools can charge, but it does have a minimum charge requirement. Under the new legislation, that minimum is $2.46.
Hankinson does not know how many schools in the North Country district will be increasing prices, but he said a number of them will over time. Officials in charge of the local programs are already working on meeting the requirements.
Hankinson said there is no deadline for schools to reach the level the federal government desires. He also said that anytime there is a price increase, there is a concern about losing students, because they may not be able to pay or wish to pay the new prices. Hankinson said the USDA is going to monitor any impact in the implementation the program.
“The statistics they’ll use are derived nationally,” he said. “What happens here may or may not have any particular effect on how the USDA analysis plays out in terms of national legislation surrounding the subsidies for students meals.”
School districts will have to deal with students who cannot afford to pay for their meals. Even though lunch prices are increasing, the guidelines for free and reduce lunches have remained stable.