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Hartford Courant: Student school lunch debt soaring in CT after return to paid meals. ‘Children need to eat’

Alison Cross, Hartford Courant

February 12, 2024 - 2 minutes

Student debt from unpaid meals is soaring after the vast majority of Connecticut schools returned to a paid lunch model at the start of the 2023 to 2024 school year.

A midyear meal debt report, conducted by the School Nutrition Association of Connecticut, revealed a collective debt of $366,403 held by nearly 50 districts in the state that participated in the survey.

The sample, which represents one-fifth of the state’s public school population, included districts with as few as 194 students to upwards of 7,000. The negative balance in each district ranged from $518 to $32,000, with an average debt of $3.85 per student.


Michael Morton, the deputy executive director for communications and operations at the School and State Finance Project, said the burgeoning debt adds another layer of challenge to districts already facing less-than-ideal financial situations with the expiration of federal COVID-19 aid. Morton said these fiscal woes would grow under budget adjustments proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont.

“When we talk about, in this case, school lunches, if there is no room in district budgets, if the federal relief dollars have already been spent by that district or allocated to other purposes, then really you’re going to have districts in between a rock and a hard place,” Morton said.

Morton said the School and State Finance Project has seen a significant number of districts request more from municipalities to close gaps in funding, a cost that he said ultimately falls on taxpayers. He added that he is “not surprised at all” that schools are facing significant lunch debt.

“Overall, what we’re seeing with district budgets is significant shortfalls. We’re seeing challenges to maintain the level of service and programs that they’ve been offering,” Morton said. “The needs of students are still there. They don’t expire magically when the money goes away.”

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