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Columbia Public School Board discuss meal debt and nutritional services


The Columbia Public School Board of Education met on Wednesday, to discuss the ongoing student meal debt accumulation and nutritional services.

For the 2022-2023 school year alone, over 2.5 million students have gotten meals or snacks from school.

However, revenue numbers may not accurately reflect the large number of students served as many students who can pay for their lunches are not doing so.

Since August of this year, the district has accumulated over $69,000 in meal debt, with 221 accounts having a negative balance of over $100 as of Nov. 27th. There are a total of 1,684 accounts.

According to documents from the meeting, for the 2022-2023 year, the district wrote off over $91,000 in lunch debt in August.

During the meeting, Heather McArthur, Chief Financial Officer for the district said meal debt is not just happening here, it is a nationwide problem.

A majority of revenue for nutrition services in schools comes from federal funding. However, the district says their a la carte sales have been helping with revenue.

For the 2022-2023 year, a la carte sales brought in over $525,000.

Meal debt is not the only challenge the district faces when it comes to feeding its students. Rising operational costs, recruiting employees, federal and state regulations, and the return to full-price and reduced-price meals are also trying to be addressed.

Re-educating families on the free and reduced lunch program application process is also something they want to address.

The state is considering a universal free meal program for all Missouri public schools.

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Gabrielle Teiner


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