Students in Clark County Public Schools and many others across the state will be paying more for their lunches next school year because of a recent mandate from the federal government.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which subsidizes school lunch programs, informed school districts that under requirements of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Act of 2010, they must charge at least $2.51 for school lunches for students who pay full-price for their meals.
Schools that have not been charging that much must gradually increase their prices over the next few years until they meet the $2.51 minimum.Clark County Public Schools prices were well below the federal minimum. Last year, elementary and middle schools students were charged $1.95 for lunch and high school students paid $2.25.
To comply with the federal mandate, the Clark County Board of Education last week reluctantly approved a 5-cent increase in lunch prices for full-pay students only, for the 2012-2013 school year. The increase does not affect breakfast prices nor lunch costs for students receiving free and reduced price lunches.
Superintendent Elaine Farris said district officials were not happy about having to increase prices, but they were given no choice.
“I don’t think the board would approve raising lunch prices during these economic times ... but we understand that we have to follow the federal law,” Farris said. “We are never happy about putting another mandate or increase on our constituents or our stakeholders. I just want to say to our public that we do try to find ways to not put too much of a financial burden on you. However, this is a mandate from the federal government, so we have to bite it off and chew it.”
This is the first increase in food prices in the district since 2009-2010 when elementary and middle school lunches increased 10 cents. George Rogers Clark High School lunch prices were last raised in 2008-2009 when they went up 25 cents.
The increase comes at a time when the number of students eating school lunches is at an all time high in Clark County and the district food service department finances are healthy, which worries Nutrition Services Director Becky Lowry.
“Over the years our participation rate has steadily increased. Our kids are eating with us and we are thrilled about it, but as food service directors we are worried that this is going to affect us so much that the kids won’t eat with us as much anymore,” Lowry said. “We have a healthy budget in Clark County, but when you start having to raise the price too much, then you will start losing participation, because people can’t afford it. But because it is a federal mandate, our hands are tied. We have to show that we are making an effort to meet the guidelines.”
Even with the 5-cent increase, lunch prices in the district are still comparable with those in surrounding districts with comparable numbers of free and reduced price lunch students, Lowry said.
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