Local school districts around the country are going to take a huge financial hit in fiscal year 2015 because the cost of the school lunches they offer is expected to triple.
The combination of escalating costs because of harsher restrictions and the dwindling number of students enrolled in the program, which limits reimbursements from the federal government, are going to rigger the enormous rise in costs, according to the School Nutrition Association (SNA).
SNA is comprised of 55,000 school nutrition professionals around the country. SNA CEO Patricia Montague said, “School nutrition professionals have led the way in promoting improved diets for students and are committed to serving healthy meals. Despite all of these efforts, fewer students are eating school meals, and the escalating costs of meeting overly prescriptive regulations are putting school meal programs in financial jeopardy.”
Drawing on data from the USDA, SNA asserted the USDA figures local school districts and states will have to “absorb $1.22 billion in new food, labor and administrative costs in Fiscal Year 2015 alone, up from $362 million in additional costs in FY 2014.”
SNA estimates that although food and labor costs for the school districts’ reimbursable lunches amount to roughly 10 cents for lunch and 27 cents for breakfast, the programs have only been reimbursed six more cents for each lunch and nothing for breakfast. The Association added that over one million fewer students have chosen school lunch each day, which costs the cafeterias money, and the cafeterias are not allowed to carry the losses until the next year. That forces the districts to make up the difference.
Attempting to alleviate the problem, SNA is recommending more flexibility from the program. Montague said, “USDA or Congress must act to provide greater flexibility under the rules before school meal programs become a financial liability for the school districts they serve.” Some suggestions to elicit a greater response from students include letting the meals halve the amount of grains offered to be whole grain rich, offering (but not requiring the students to take them) vegetables and fruits, and permitting “healthy” items to be sold a la carte.