July 23rd, 2015 – A senator from Oklahoma recently proposed a bill to relax mandatory price floors on school district “paid” lunches. Quick background: Part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was a requirement that districts receiving subsidization from the National School Lunch Program provide equitable compensation to the nonprofit food service account for meals, specifically for those families that do not qualify for free/reduced meal status. This equitable compensation takes the form of a strict price floor charged to paid students of $2.70 per meal. This floor is currently mandatory for all school districts; the Oklahoma bill would allow districts who have lunch programs already financially solvent or running a surplus to lower the cost of paid lunches, while keeping the requirement for schools that are not solvent.
On its face, this seems like a smart move. The tricky aspect is that a good part of the requirement for all paid lunches to provide equity to the nonprofit account (and its strict prohibition of revenue sharing) has to do with ensuring that every school’s food-service department remains solvent when it comes to any aspect of providing nutrition in the school. The existing regulation also doesn’t hold every school to the same floor; lower-income schools can charge lower prices and solvent schools higher prices, provided that the district average hits the intended target. This makes the proponent’s point about relieving financial stress on families debatable, and the title of the bill somewhat misleading.
A more informal summation of the PLE requirement can be found here.