School lunch debt is growing problem

School lunch debt is growing problem

Few issues exemplify the struggling needs of schools and low-income families like school lunch debt. Like the cost of living, the cost of educating a child grows every year, yet many school districts face stagnant funding at the state and local levels. This means that when parents cannot pay for school lunches, or as in the scenario below, an error in processing free-lunch applications results in debt, schools feel the need to collect. Jessica Fu with The New Food Economy has more:

Every day, Kyrie did what school kids across the country do. He punched his student number into a keypad at the end of the lunch line, ate his food in the cafeteria with friends, and got on with the second half of his school day. But over a year later, Jones discovered that Kyrie’s free lunch application had been processed incorrectly. After she’d submitted it, the program covered Kyrie’s meals for just one month. Reimbursements then dropped off for reasons the school has not made clear to Jones. Instead of getting free lunch every day, Kyrie had been racking up lunch debt—nearly $1,000 worth of it.

The Jones family’s school lunch debt has prevented Kyrie from participating in school activities such as dances, while other schools block field trips or even contract private debt collectors. And they are not alone.

In December of 2018, The Washington Post reported that K-12 students in the D.C. area, which comprises multiple school districts, owed a collective $500,000 in unpaid lunch balances. At the end of the 2017-2018 school year, Denver, Colorado’s school districts saw meal debt rise to $356,000 from $13,000 in 2016—more than a 2,600-percent increase. “School districts nationwide are really feeling the squeeze … and unfortunately, I think we’re going to be hearing more about this in the coming years,” says Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association (SNA), referring to the persistence of school lunch debt. “For a lot of districts, you’re looking at having to cover these costs out of the general fund. And if it’s year after year, and it’s an excessive amount of debt for the school district, that’s impactful to core educational activities.”


Louisiana one step closer to sports betting
States across the country, including Mississippi, have jumped on the sports betting as a means of revenue after a U.S. Supreme Court decision left such decisions up to the states. A bill this year would legalize it in Louisiana, but as with all gambling legislation, there are numerous concerns on how best to implement it and how to address potential outcomes such as gambling addictions. Mark Ballard with The Advocate reports:

Sports betting is not the solution to the state’s fiscal problems, said the chief sponsor, Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie. But if Louisiana doesn’t move now, the already slumping gambling industry, which already contributes more money to the state than any other industry, will lose more. Several states, including Mississippi, already have approved sports betting on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that allowed its expansion. Martiny estimates that sports betting could raise $40 to $60 million per year for state coffers. “What I do know is if we don’t do it, we will lose money,” he said. … Stacie Stern, government affairs manager for FanDuel, a New York-based company, showed senators a comparison between the revenues generated by New Jersey, which allows statewide mobile sports betting, and that of Mississippi, which does not. About $780.6 million of the $1.2 billion sports betting handle from 2018 came from mobile apps in New Jersey. Mississippi had a total of $156.3 million bet on sports but lost out on an estimated $261.4 million by not allowing sports betting on mobile phones, Stern said.


Setting the record straight on fraud prevention
Louisiana is a national leader in preventing Medicaid fraud and abuse, but this has not prevented politicians from using a well-timed and misleading audit on Medicaid fraud to bash the system. The reality is, errors in determining eligibility were because of an antiquated system. Louisiana’s new, state-of-the-art system, was already addressing the concerns brought to light by the audit. Secretary of Health, Dr. Rebekah Gee, reminds constituents of this in The Daily Advertiser:

We are now a national leader in combating fraud and abuse, performing better than most states on federal anti-fraud measures. In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services reviewed how we address fraud allegations. Their audit concluded that in 100 percent of the cases, we took the appropriate action and they made no recommendations for improvement. Still, I continue to look for additional ways to root out wasteful or improper spending. By doing so, we can best direct resources to those who need them most and away from those who do not.


Help students by fixing buses
Twenty-five million American students ride school buses to school. Most of these diesel-sucking hulks are old and not very environmentally friendly. So what happens when you add engine retrofits to buses to reduce harmful emissions? Wes Austin, Garth Heutel and Daniel Kreisman of Georgia State University found out and discussed the results with the Brookings Institute:

We saw significant improvements in students’ respiratory health. Retrofitting districts saw a sizable increase in aerobic capacity scores. The effect was twice as large when we restricted the sample to elementary-school students, who are more affected by air pollution than their older peers. … Just like with health outcomes, we found strong and convincing evidence that school bus retrofits led to improvements in academic performance, particularly for English test scores. Based on our estimates, if a district retrofits its entire bus fleet, the effect on English test scores would be slightly larger than the effect of going from a rookie teacher to one with five years of experience.


Number of the Day
30 percent – The percent of non-elderly Louisianans with pre-existing conditions that could have been legally declined  health insurance by private companies prior to the Affordable Care Act. (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)